The commissioner of the third-year, seven-team Midwest Jr. Hockey League is of the notion that having an interlocking schedule with the fledgling Canadian International Hockey League in 2015-2016 will benefit the overall level of play.
Scott Gardiner, who is co-coach and co-owner of the defending MWJHL champion Traverse City Hounds as well as being the league’s commissioner, said he and CIHL president Tim Clayden talk regularly.
“Tim and I have maintained an open dialogue all year long,” said the 50-year old Gardiner, a former first-round pick of the Belleville Bulls who played with the Ontario Hockey League team from 1981 to 1984.
“I believe playing against our Canadian neighbours will help our overall level of play and create tremendous rivalries,” Gardiner noted. “There is no reason at all why we cannot play against one another in showcase events and overlapping schedules as long as all teams are properly insured.
“At the end of our season we will be looking at all of our options. The junior hockey landscape is constantly changing and we will move forward as we always have,” Gardiner added evenly.
Dan Vasquez, who is the coach-general manager of the Detroit Fighting Irish of the MWJHL, is also on record as being in favour of an alignment with the CIHL, providing all teams are properly insured.
Vasquez and the Fighting Irish recently hosted a five-team showcase tournament that included the Motor City Monarchs of the MWJHL, the Batchewana Attack and Espanola Rivermen of the CIHL and the independent Kalkaska Rhinos. Batchewana won the tournament championship by defeating Kalkaska and Espanola took the measure of Detroit to claim the consolation prize.
The Fighting Irish will venture north to play exhibition games with Espanola and Batchewana this Friday night and Sunday afternoon, respectively. Part of a balanced MWJHL, the Fighting Irish is in a spirited battle with Motor City for second place behind league-leading Traverse City.
Meanwhile, aside from Batchewana and Espanola, the CIHL has had a rough debut season, which Clayden as president has readily acknowledged.
But Clayden said he is confident that the CIHL will operate with five healthy franchises — based in northern Ontario and northern Michigan — in 2015-2016 and that the MWJHL will enhance the operation.
“Scotty (Gardiner) and I talk all the time and I have had a chance to meet and get to know Dan (Vasquez) and some of the other good people who are involved with the MWJHL,” Clayden noted. “I am thankful for their input and support to date.”