Major (midget) overhaul

Kenn Oliver
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Lee says provincial league will operate in 2010-11, with two teams from St. John's

Following a few weeks of uncertainty, the head of minor hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador says there will be a provincial major midget hockey league next season.

Moreover, perennial champs St. John's Fog Devils won't be the only team playing in the capital city.

"I'm sure they (the Fog Devils) would like to see just one team in St. John's, but they know, as I know, if we keep operating under the current structure, there won't be a league," said Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador Minor Council chairman Jack Lee.

Following a few weeks of uncertainty, the head of minor hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador says there will be a provincial major midget hockey league next season.

Moreover, perennial champs St. John's Fog Devils won't be the only team playing in the capital city.

"I'm sure they (the Fog Devils) would like to see just one team in St. John's, but they know, as I know, if we keep operating under the current structure, there won't be a league," said Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador Minor Council chairman Jack Lee.

"In my opinion, we've had two teams from St. John's for the last couple of years because the majority of the Tri Pen (Frost) team was from the St. John's area. This year, it will be made up of players from the Trinity-Placentia area."

There had been some fears the provincial major midget league would fold prior to the drop of the puck next season. But following a meeting in Clarenville this week involving stakeholders and a committee struck by Lee, the new structure of the league would see teams operate as franchises for two-year periods.

But unlike the current setup where teams are registered under a host minor hockey association, the new league will look for, "newly incorporated not-for-profit organizations created to promote major midget hockey in a designated region."

Under the previous system, minor hockey associations such as St. John's minor, Bay Arena minor, Gander minor or Exploits Valley minor were host associations for the midget teams, and as a result were responsible for the team's operations, finances included.

With the new program, teams will operate as franchises with boards in place, not unlike Celtics or Mount Pearl Blades in the St. John's junior league or Blue Caps, Shamrocks and Gander Flyers in the old Newfoundland Senior Hockey League.

The one exception for this year will be the St. John's Minor Hockey Association which, as the host association for the midget Fog Devils, will stage the national Telus Cup major midget hockey championship at Mile One Centre next April.

Minor hockey associations, as the feeder systems for major midget, will still have a role to play, but Lee insists they won't be solely responsible for the management of a team in their region.

"A lot of minor hockey associations are reluctant to take on these teams and commit financially," he said. "They don't want that responsibility, especially in a non-competitive league."

Based on the turnout at this week's meeting, attended by each of the three teams from last season - including two groups interested in operating the Central IcePak - it appears as though a five-team league could materialize.

Only the Fog Devils, who went on to win a national Telus Cup bronze medal, Tri-Pen and Central participated in the meetings last season.

"Everyone was on the same page with where this has to go to make a competitive, developmental league for all players."

A knock against the major midget league in previous years has been a lack of balance amongst the teams. The Fog Devils (and prior to that, the St. John's AAA Maple Leafs) have dominated provincial midget hockey, winning eight straight championships.

Last season, the Fog Devils went 23-0 and outscored the opposition 212-28.

Another change will see a formal board of directors, chaired by Lee, govern the operation of the league, similar to the manner in which the senior and junior leagues are operated. In addition, each team will have a "governor" on the board.

Lee is optimistic these changes will save major midget hockey in this province and begin to provide a better opportunity for midget-aged players to be scouted by the Maritime Junior Hockey League and the Quebec major junior circuit.

"I think it's going revive the league," he said. "We have enough skill level to make this work in the province and in time, when we develop our teams, we're going to be more than competitive at home and in Atlantic Canada."

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador Minor Council, Telus, Newfoundland Senior Hockey League Minor Hockey Association AAA Maple Leafs Maritime Junior Hockey League

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Trinity-Placentia Clarenville Exploits Valley Central IcePak Quebec Atlantic Canada

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