Sault Ste. Marie will be represented by one team, rather than two, in the Great North Midget Hockey League for the 2019-2020 season, Hockey News North has confirmed.
Travis Merrett, the 34-year old president of the Sault Major Hockey Association, told Hockey News North that “many factors were measured when coming to this conclusion. The anxiety that this decision will limit the exposure for Ontario Hockey League draft-eligible players was a concern that the board wanted to satisfy before coming to a decision.”
Merrett said that when considering to go into the 2019-2020 season with just the Soo Major Thunderbirds and drop the Soo Minor Thunderbirds, the SMHA executive “reached out to four southern Ontario based OHL general managers who all identified their scouts diligence in watching an equal amount of major midget events as they do at the minor midget level.”
After years of having only team in the Great North — made up of both minor midget and major midget aged players — the Soo was represented by two separate teams during both the 2017-2018 season and the current 2018-2019 campaign.
Both teams — the Major Thunderbirds and Minor Thunderbirds — had to go out-of-town for players in order to fill rosters to compete in the Great North.
Now, looking ahead to the 2019-2020 season and with one team made up of the top minor midget and major midget aged talent in town, Sault Ste. Marie could well be better represented in the Great North loop.
Meanwhile, Merrett went to great lengths in explaining the rationale behind the Sault Major decision to drop its minor midget team and proceed with just a major midget entry in the Great North.
“Ultimately, coming to this decision when we did provides an opportunity to dedicate effort and energy to giving the new combined minor/major midget aged program the best start possible,” Merrett began.
As the first-year president of the SMHA — he previously served as a vice president for Sault Major — Merrett told Hockey News North that “minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie is currently being re-evaluated and many partnerships are being created with some great local hockey minds. The development of our players is the number one priority.
“Finding deficiencies and making changes that promote quality development does not happen overnight. Unfortunately, decisions are being made that are running parallel with the end goal and this may be difficult to visualize. It is important to draw on past years to assess what could have been done differently but it’s equally as important to keep the future in mind and how we can impact positively when creating a solution.
“It’s easy for a collective to champion for change when it has no influence on their specific interest,” Merrett continued. “Conversely to that, is a very distinct reversal of opinions when it tends to have an impact much closer to home.
“A staff or parent group of a particular team may be tasked to service one age group. We as a board have a much greater responsibility as we are to make decisions with an entire association in mind. The notion that this has a direct impact on a particular age group was taken into consideration in this decision,” Merrett pointed out.
“However, this result is not about one group of players for one birth year. This is a decision that is being made for many reasons that will impact future seasons in many positive ways. If we consistently factored in a particular age group at any level with any decision, nothing would ever be accomplished as we would receive push back every time,” Merrett concluded.