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The Maritime Junior Hockey League may not be looking to expand for the time being, but the league hasn’t ruled out expansion to Cape Breton in the future.
President Steve Dykeman told the Cape Breton Post Wednesday nothing is off the table.
“We have 12 very strong teams at the moment and we haven’t discussed expansion recently,” said Dykeman. “We look year-to-year and see where teams are.”
The Maritime Junior Hockey League has six teams in Nova Scotia — Amherst, Pictou County, Truro, South Shore, Valley and Yarmouth — and five teams in New Brunswick — Campbellton, Fredericton, Grand Falls, Edmundston and Miramichi — as well as one team in Prince Edward Island located in Summerside.
“We get lots of interest every year from lots of different places,” said Dykeman. “We’d never say no outright to anybody and we’d look at the plans anybody has to offer.”
Dykeman said no expression of interest has been shown from Cape Breton since he became president in June 2019.
The Maritime Junior Hockey League expanded to Cape Breton for the 1996-97 season with the Cape Breton Islanders playing their home games at Centre 200 in Sydney. The island hosted the league’s all-star game in 1996 in Sydney.
When the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles — now known as the Cape Breton Eagles — arrived in Sydney in 1997, the Islanders moved to Glace Bay and became the Miners.
“We’d never say no outright to anybody and we’d look at the plans anybody has to offer.” — MHL president Steve Dykeman
The Miners were unable to compete with the Eagles for sponsorship and fan support and the team folded halfway through the 1997-98 season.
“The fact there was a team in Cape Breton 25 years ago is nostalgic and interesting,” said Dykeman. “I know hockey is a big part of the fabric of Cape Breton for sure. Lots of amazing players come out of there and there’s lots of great minor hockey and they have a QMJHL team.
“The area is rich in hockey history, that’s for sure.”
Currently, no MHL franchise is located in the same area as a major junior team. However, Dykeman said it’s not something the league avoids.
“I know there was a team in Dieppe, N.B., and they had a strong program for the Moncton area even with the Wildcats there,” he said. “It’s certain that it can happen given all the right elements come together.”
The Dieppe Commandos moved to Edmundston following the 2016-17 season.
Meanwhile, there’s 14 Cape Breton players currently suiting up for MHL teams including Chase Ellis (Amherst), Matthew Helpard (Amherst), Alex MacKinnon (Edmundston), Brendan MacRitchie (Fredericton), Kenzie MacPhail (Miramichi), Vincent Stevens (Pictou County), Neil MacLean (Pictou County), and Jack Morris (Pictou County).
Trey Sturge (Truro), Leon Denny (Truro), Dell Welton (Truro), Dylan MacLeod (Truro), Sonny Kabatay (Valley), and Sam Gillis (Yarmouth) are also playing for their respective MHL clubs.
Jeremy Fraser is the sports reporter for the Cape Breton Post. He's been with the publication for four years. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @CBPost_Jeremy.