From dream to reality, thus begins the story of the new, Ontario-based, junior-level, Canadian International Hockey League.
The first puck will drop on the first-ever CIHL season this weekend, a mere seven months after its founder announced his plans and vision for the new league. And while there is no doubt that there will be bumps ahead — on and off the ice — the CIHL has arrived.
It was late February of this year when Espanola Rivermen owner Tim Clayden, citing irreconcilable differences with commissioner Robert Mazzuca, announced that he was departing the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League at the end of 2013-2014 season to start his own venture.
Moving swiftly, working at a feverish pace and with the assistance of a number of trusted friends that he had made in junior hockey over three decades, Clayden announced the formation of the new CIHL with Espanola — which led the NOJHL in attendance during the 2013-2014 season — as the flagship franchise.
A few associates aside, not many thought that Clayden would be able to gain enough partners to start a new junior league, let alone in time for the 2014-2015 season.
But with steely resolve, unwavering conviction and with the odds and the naysayers all against him, Clayden managed to put together an eight-team league that includes Espanola, the Sault Ste. Marie-based Batchewana Attack, the Sudbury Royals and the St. Charles Spirit in the North and the Colborne Hawks, Collingwood Ice, Milton Battle Arts Cobras and Toronto Jr. Hockey Academy in the South.
A hiccup here and a burp there and a hassle here and a squabble there and a threat here and a hindrance there notwithstanding, the CIHL is ready to start play — and with some reputable hockey people as part of the program.
Three men stand out as having played the game at the highest level and over a long period of time.
Besides having played in the Ontario Hockey League as youngsters, three CIHL head coaches — Tom McCarthy of Espanola, Denny Lambert of Batchewana and Dennis Maruk of Milton — retired from the National Hockey League with more than 1,900 games between them.
Still, there are those out there intent on trying to bring the CIHL down — scare-tactic individuals with self-serving agendas who seemingly can’t accept the fact that a new league can operate outside the formidable Hockey Canada umbrella, even if the new league is sanctioned by the United Hockey Union.
But moving forward while billing itself as a “league without borders” where Canadian and American players share equal status as non-imports and teams can use as many as 12 Europeans if they wish, the CIHL under the relentless Clayden has driven a long road in a short time.
There will be always be problems and issues — even the highest-level, major junior OHL has seen 10 teams come and go in the last 20 years and the rival, mainstay NOJHL is a revolving door of owners, franchises and cities — but the CIHL is another option in the junior hockey world and a nice one at that.
As the CIHL is a major work in progress, Clayden himself acknowledges that the league will become a survival of the fittest in each of the towns that it operates.
“It all begins with strong, committed ownership and the willingness to absorb the bumps, bruises and growing pains that are all a part of something new,” he related. “Are we perfect? No. But I think we are the start of something good.”
PHOTO: Tim Clayden, founder and president of the new Canadian International Hockey League.