Geographic rivalries are what the new Canadian International Hockey League is based on, according to its founder and president.
“Our entire operation is based on area rivalries in both our North Division and our South Division,” said Tim Clayden, the veteran junior hockey operator who pulled his successful Espanola Rivermen franchise out of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League following the 2013-2014 season to start the new CIHL, which will begin its inaugural 2014-2015 campaign on the first weekend of October.
Batchewana Attack, Espanola Rivermen, Sudbury Royals and St. Charles Spirit will make up the four-team North Division.
The South Division will also feature four Ontario-based team — Colborne Hawks, Collingwood Ice, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and Toronto Jr. Hockey Academy.
The four teams in the North Division are within 220 miles of one another stretching from the Sault Ste. Marie-based Attack to St. Charles, which is part of the Sudbury East region.
To be sure, the St. Charles-Sudbury rivalry defines close proximity with the Spirit and Royals separated by less than 50 miles.
Then there’s Espanola, which is less than an hour from Sudbury, about an hour-and-a-half from St. Charles and two-and-a-half hours from Batchewana, which plays out of Rankin Arena on First Nation land in the Soo.
Clayden said northern rivalries are “historically intense and once the puck drops, the CIHL will be no different. There will be no love lost between any of the northern teams, which I am sure will filter down to the players and out onto the ice. And so be it as there is nothing wrong with good, old-fashioned hockey played in a traditional style. Hockey is a great game. Why change it?”
Through home-and-home exhibition games to date, Batchewana and Espanola have already formed the makings of a rabid rivalry.
Both teams are coached by intense individuals who as players starred in the Ontario Hockey League before both going on to play in more than 500 National Hockey League games apiece.
“You think that (Batchewana coach) Denny Lambert and (Espanola coach) Tommy McCarthy aren’t going to want to stick it to one another? Denny and Tommy are both great coaches who have proven themselves at the junior level as men who develop players and build character in them. They also don’t back down from any one and neither will their players, I can tell you that,” said Clayden.
Over in the Sudbury-St. Charles area, Royals general manager KB Beals and Spirit coach-GM Scott Ginson are anticipating the forthcoming season.
“From day one the vision of the CIHL has always been league first,” Beals began. “I’ve had an opportunity to work with some great people since being involved in the league. As for us and St. Charles, Scott and I have the same mission which is to ice the best team possible and to give the players the best experience we can. Both of our teams will be focused on winning the championship but the biggest win is the players having the opportunity to promote themselves and develop. As they advance in their hockey careers, that will be the real trophy.”
As for Ginson, he feels as though junior hockey fans in the Sudbury area are in for a thrill.
“We have seen time and time again that predicting the outcome of a hockey season is just like a weather forecast — often widely unpredictable,” Ginson began. “We are working hard to develop a strong program in St. Charles and I’m sure KB and his Sudbury Royals are doing likewise, which should provide area junior hockey fans with a lot of exciting action over the course of the season.”
Meantime, on the south side of the CIHL, while Colborne, Collingwood, Milton and Toronto are part of such an expansive, populous area with so many junior teams and leagues, Clayden sees the Hawks, Ice, Battle Arts Cobras and Jr. Hockey Academy forming their own rivalries and identities.
“We have good operators and good people involved with our South Division teams,” said Clayden. “Colborne, Collingwood, Milton and Toronto are where we as a league are starting to build our identity in that area of the province. As the North Division looks to be intense, you can bet that the boys from the South Division will want bragging rights of their own. And just wait until teams from the North play teams from the South. Watch out!”
PHOTO: Sudbury Royals, at practice at Capreol Community Centre Arena.