Yes, there have been struggles. Major struggles, in fact.
For one reason or another, teams have either left on their own or have been shown the door.
To be sure, all has not gone according to the plan of the founder of the first-year Canadian International Hockey League.
Down to three teams now — Batchewana Attack, Espanola Rivermen and Kalkaska Rhinos — the CIHL is moving ahead to finish its debut season with regular-season, playoff games and tournaments that also includes the Detroit Fighting Irish of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League.
Despite all of the upheaval and drama that has enveloped the new CIHL this 2014-2015 season, founder and president Tim Clayden remains committed and focused on the vision and future of the fledgling junior hockey league.
“Anyone can quit,” Clayden said evenly. “It’s easy to quit.”
Clayden is taking full responsibility for what has been a topsy-turvy season.
“I am the one who has to look at myself in the mirror and take responsibility for the failures that we have had as a first-year league,” said Clayden. “I am the one who set up the league with owners who did not follow through on their commitments. I am the one who has to accept responsibility for what went wrong.”
Undaunted, Clayden said the CIHL will finish the 2014-2015 season — and is already looking ahead to 2015-2016.
“Batchewana, Espanola and Kalkaska will all return next season,” Clayden predicted, “and we have a new owner in Sudbury who is ready to start fresh. We have an arena lease to play in Greater Sudbury next season.”
Besides Batchewana, Espanola and Sudbury from northern Ontario and Michigan-based Kalkaska, Clayden said he feels there will be two other teams from the Upper Peninsula that will be a part of the CIHL in 2015-2016.
“I would be very happy with six solid teams with good ownership,” Clayden said evenly.
Looming as a possibility is an interlocking schedule for 2015-2016 with the aforementioned MWJHL, which has a three-team presence in the Detroit area and three more in northern Michigan — Soo Firehawks, Traverse City Hounds and Alpena Flyers.
With all that has gone awry this season, Clayden proudly points to the three remaining teams that are all coached by former National Hockey League players of more than 500 games apiece.
Denny Lambert (who also played and coached in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Greyhounds) is Batchewana’s head coach while fellow former NHL journeymen Tom McCarthy and Krzysztof Oliwa perform similar roles with Espanola and Kalkaska, respectively.
Clayden is also proud of the fact that Batchewana defeated the Central Michigan University Chippewas of the American Collegiate Hockey Association in the championship game of a showcase tournament that was held in Kalkaska earlier this month.
Player development is mentioned in the first paragraph of the CIHL mission statement and Clayden said the league is “doing pretty good” in that regard, noting that two Batchewana players were called up to the Tier 1 junior, United States Hockey League earlier this season and that another moved up to the Tier 2 junior, North American Hockey League.
As the CIHL trudges ahead with the completion of its inaugural season, Clayden said he is “already being more diligent” looking ahead to 2015-2016.
“We will learn from our mistakes, that I promise you,” he said. “We have good people among us who like what we do and who are determined to see the CIHL succeed long term.”