CBC Radio Sudbury journalist Mathieu Gohier called me the other day, wanting to know my thoughts on the future of the fledgling Canadian International Hockey League.
Gohier and I talked at length about the CIHL, which experienced its share of struggles as a first-year junior league this 2014-2015 season.
As I told Gohier, I expect the CIHL to return in 2015-2016 despite finishing the 2014-2015 season with just two teams, the Batchewana Attack and the Espanola Rivermen.
As someone who tries to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty, I do see the CIHL forging ahead in 2015-2016 as a four-or-five team loop that would play an interlocking schedule with the Michigan-based Midwest Jr. Hockey League — and perhaps a few games with northern teams from the independent Greater Metro Hockey League.
But first things first.
I see the CIHL continuing to operate because its founder and president Tim Clayden is a relentless individual who does not know the meaning of the word quit.
It would have been easy for Clayden to call it quits midway through the 2014-2015 season when the league went from eight teams to four to three and then to two.
Instead, Clayden swallowed his considerable pride, admitted to mistakes made on his part and began to re-group and re-build for 2015-2016 while keeping Batchewana and Espanola in full operation.
Clayden — who his adversary, Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League commissioner Robert Mazzuca, has publicly referred to as one of the best Junior A hockey operators in all of Canada — has already managed to get a head start on 2015-2016 by securing an ice contract with the City of Greater Sudbury for a new CIHL franchise.
He has also been poking around a couple of northern Michigan towns as he strives to ensure that the CIHL will operate with at least four viable franchises in 2015-2016.
I have faith in Clayden’s vision for a junior league independent of Hockey Canada. I also have faith in Clayden as a person and I don’t mind saying that, even if he has become a punching bag for anonymous blog posters and holier-than-thou coaches, managers and executives from hockey’s mainstream.
Clayden does not have delusions of grandeur for the CIHL.
He may have at one point when starting out but he now sees the CIHL as a level training ground for student-athletes where local players will also be given the opportunity to play for the local teams, a blueprint that has worked for both Batchewana and Espanola.
Clayden is no quitter.
And call me an optimist — as I do see the CIHL moving forward led by Clayden and a good following of trusted volunteers that he has on his side.