Junior hockey relocation, movement
March 21, 2015
As the junior hockey world turns, teams enter and exit through a revolving door that spins open and shut.
Even the self-proclaimed, best junior loop in the world — the Ontario Hockey League — is not exempt from movement.
To be sure, in the past several weeks alone, two well-established OHL franchises announced their sale and relocation.
The Plymouth Whalers, who came into being in 1997 after initial formation as the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors in 1990, will remain in Michigan in 2015-2016 but under new ownership and relocation as the Flint Firebirds.
Then it was the Belleville Bulls, who have been the epitome of a successful, small-market franchise since way back in 1981, shocking their faithful followers by announcing a sale, relocation and rebrand to Hamilton as the Bulldogs for the 2015-2016 season.
Ah yes, Hamilton, which has been an OHL home to the Red Wings, Fincups (twice), Steelhawks and Dukes over a 30-year period, ending in 1991. Hamilton, which has failed to support the Red Wings, Fincups, Steelhawks and Dukes, now has the Bulldogs.
At any rate, as the major junior OHL shifts and shuffles, relocation and expansion are on the agenda of three Ontario-based, junior A leagues.
Currently at nine teams, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League will have a different look to it come the 2015-2016 campaign.
For starters, the NOJHL has already approved the move of the Abitibi Eskimos from Iroquois Falls to the bigger, nearby town of Timmins for the 2015-2016 season.
But it does not appear that Iroquois Falls and the NOJHL will be parting company.
Sources are saying there is a plan in place that will result in an existing team relocating to Iroquois Falls for next season, pending approval from the league and the town.
But there is more.
The NOJHL is interested in returning to Espanola, where the Rivermen left for the new Canadian International Hockey League for the 2014-2015 season. The Town of Espanola recently announced it was “exercising its right” to terminate its contract with the Rivermen — though the team is challenging that decision, saying it has a signed agreement that extends to May of 2017.
The NOJHL is also exploring further expansion for 2015-2016, with eyes on the French River area of northern Ontario and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Of note, any return to Michigan would require the approval of USA Hockey, though it’s not like the NOJHL is a stranger to that process.
In the past 10 or so years alone, the NOJHL has been home to the St. Ignace-based Northern Michigan Black Bears as well as both the Soo Indians and the Soo Eagles.
The NOJHL has enjoyed success in the Michigan Soo.
The Indians won the NOJHL championship in 2006-2007 before going dormant and the new-look Eagles took the league title in 2010-2011 before leaving to join the higher-calibre, North American Hockey League for the 2012-2013 season.
Then there is the Blind River Beavers situation and what to do about them for 2015-2016.
Blind River was a disaster on and off the ice in 2014-2015 with a regular season-playoff record of 0-55-1 and attendance that dipped below 100 for a number of games.
The Beavers say they will be returning in 2015-2016 but whether it is under new ownership-management or not, their existence is of some concern to those who sit around the NOJHL executive table.
Will the aforementioned Canadian International Hockey League, which began play last fall, be one-and-done?
Founder and president Tim Clayden, who also owns the Espanola Rivermen, says he expects the CIHL to return in 2015-2016, albeit in altered form.
After beginning its inaugural season with eight teams, the CIHL finished with just two — Espanola and the Batchewana Attack.
But Clayden points to a signed ice contract that the CIHL has with the City of Greater Sudbury to play out of Levack for the 2015-2016 season — which in his words, would give the league three teams, including the Rivermen and the Attack.
Should the Rivermen leave Espanola, it has an overture from the Township of Sables-Spanish Rivers to play out of nearby Massey Arena.
So let’s say that the CIHL holds on to the Rivermen and Attack and adds Sudbury, giving it three teams.
Clayden, by his own decree, said the CIHL needs at least four teams to continue to operate in 2015-2016. Which leads us to the question — where will the fourth team be located?
If Clayden knows, he isn’t saying — at least for the record.
Founded in 2006, the independent Greater Metro Hockey League continues to confound the naysayers by not only existing but expanding.
Already with more than 20 teams in the Greater Toronto Area, central Ontario, northern Ontario and northern Quebec, the GMHL is expanding into southwestern Ontario for the 2015-2016 season.
The GMHL could also return to Mattawa, which left for the NOJHL last fall.
As any junior hockey league — including the OHL — the GMHL has had teams come and go over the years. But co-founders Bobby Russell — the former Sudbury Wolves, OHL scoring star from the early 1970s — and Ken Girard have kept the GMHL going as a viable alternative to Hockey Canada-sanctioned leagues.
The GMHL also features coaches who played the game at a high level, including Jim Aldred of the Alliston Coyotes. Aldred was a feared, fibrous forward with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL during the early-1980s and became a third-round, National Hockey League draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres.
What you think about “Junior hockey relocation, movement”
I was/am a fan of the cihl, the model was/is a great idea but honestly I think it’s done. Too bad I really enjoyed this past season. The NOJHL would be welcomed back as well to Espanola. With possible noj expansion into the French river area I would think it would kill the St. Charles team of the whatever league which would look good on a certain someone. Is there any truth to the attack joining another league. Very well run team and excellent coaching
Great up-date on the League’s.
Buzz in the air up here much creddit to you RR.
Jimmy Aldred is one of my fave Soo Greyhounds of all time. He was a tuff kid who never backed down for no body. It is good to read about him now as a Coach.
Hounds 19 72 Thanks for the kind words … I miss those days. Rest assured though, I apply the same technique to my coaching! Cheers…
For the record, “Jungle” Jim Aldred remains one of my favourite all-time Soo Greyhounds as well. Good player and an even-better guy. Good guy to talk to, good guy to drink a few beers with. Hope we meet up for a few this summer.
Any word on the Michigan Warriors of the NAHL as far as relocation?
Yes, should be official soon.
Sweet salvation justice has been served… Let’s just say when he told me off a few years ago this is exactly what was coming to him! RR I hope you have this story ready to hit the press!
Not sure who or what you are talking about.
randy i was just wondering if you heard any news out of Kirkland Lake. Rumour has it Picard-Fiset went home. Quite odd when he is in his last year of junior and it is playoff time. Just wondering as i have always believed that he is the best offensive defenseman in the nojhl.
Hi Randy; I was just wondering if the NOJHL would be expanding to more teams for the 2015-2016 season?I heard rumors of a Michigan based team as well as Sturgeon Falls and a possible relocation to Rayside Balfour.Is Espanola making a returnto the league and is Blind River going to try it for another year, thanks for taking the time to read this.
The NOJHL is not returning to Sturgeon Falls this season. The Lumberjacks will be back in the GMHL. Expansion Franchise fee’s, league fee’s and increased travel/hotel costs were too much for them to make the switch. (Neil Bell) But I think the other rumors could be possible. Would be nice to see the Soo Eagles back, which also certainly help the Thunderbirds travel costs.