It is here. It is a reality.
And it is a viable option for hockey players from the ages of 15-20.
It has been just four months since Tim Clayden boldly announced that he was taking his attendance-leading Espanola Rivermen out of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League to start the Canadian International Hockey League.
Working around-the-clock and at a feverish pitch, a relentless Clayden employed the extensive contacts that he has built up through a lifetime in the game to defy the odds — and the naysayers — and make the Ontario-based CIHL a reality.
He was able to gain membership into the sanctioned United Hockey Union — which operates under the umbrella of an Amateur Athletic Union that was founded more than 125 years ago in 1888 — and partner the CIHL with the Midwest Jr. Hockey League, Northern States Hockey League and Western States Hockey League. (Of note, the WSHL defected from USA Hockey to the UHU-AAU in 2011.)
At any rate, through the process of leaving the NOJHL to start the CIHL, Clayden had to fight off personal attacks and cheap-shots from grown men who stooped lower than low to try to discredit him and his vision.
Well folks, whether the “Old Boys Club” likes it or not, the CIHL has arrived and will begin play in 2014-2015 as a sanctioned league.
With a steely resolve and unwavering conviction, Clayden has the CIHL in business and as of now, seven teams are set to begin the 2014-2015 campaign — Espanola Rivermen, St. Charles Spirit, Central Ontario HTI Stars, Colborne Cramahe Hawks, Milton Battle Arts Cobras, Collingwood Ice and the latest addition, the Batchewana Attack.
The CIHL vision that has become reality will see Canadian and American players one and the same as non-imports. As well, all CIHL teams will be able to roster up to 12 Europeans, if they choose.
Three former National Hockey League players of considerable note have aligned themselves with CIHL teams.
Tom McCarthy, who played in 548 NHL games, will coach Espanola.
Dennis Maruk, who played in 922 NHL games, will coach Milton.
Dimitri Mironov, who played in 631 NHL games, is the senior advisor for the Central Ontario team.
Still, while the CIHL is sanctioned as a member of UHU-AAU, there are those linked to NOJHL teams who are employing scare tactics to try to keep players from playing in the new league, saying they may face penalties from Hockey Canada.
Well, let me just say that any player who signs with a CIHL team and wants to leave after this season to play in, for example, the NOJHL, he will certainly be allowed to do so by Hockey Canada without fear of repercussion.
I should also make it known that any player currently signed with any team in the NOJHL or the Ontario Jr. Hockey League — or any other Hockey Canada league — is free to leave and join the CIHL team of their choice for the upcoming season.
For example, any returning or new player with say, the Abitibi Eskimos or Cochrane Crunch or Mattawa Blackhawks or Sudbury Nickel Barons — or any other NOJHL team — are free to leave and sign with any CIHL team, should they choose to do so.
The fact is, with the formation of the CIHL as a sanctioned league, 15-20 year old players — and their parents — now have another option when it comes to playing junior hockey.
It’s the way it is now.