The much-anticipated launch of the Kitimat Saax junior hockey team’s inaugural season has been pushed back due, in large part, to threats from BC Hockey, according to the Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL).
“BC Hockey, the provincial arm of Hockey Canada, has been aggressive in its stance by stating that anyone associated with the GMHL, as well as their extended family members, be punished and sanctioned by Hockey Canada, has caused a measure of confusion and anxiety,” said the GMHL in the statement. “The GMHL continues to be inclusive, and will always work with all those who love the game of hockey, with the intention to develop and advance its players, both on and off the ice.”
The GMHL made the decision to postpone the season start to October following an audit that highlighted challenges faced by its newest western region teams, including Kitimat.
Items such as team-specific challenges like billeting and bussing, inter-divisional logistics and training, insurance and travel for its trained and sanctioned officials from multiple provinces, had a hand in the decision, the junior hockey league said.
But pressure from BC Hockey is the leading cause of the delay, said Derek Prue executive director of GMHL West Division, adding it is “illegal” and “not ethical” of them to impose conditions.
Prue also said remote teams rely on billets and volunteers, while adding they do not encroach on BC Hockey’s market.
“If there wasn’t a market we wouldn’t be here,” said Prue.
The season — which was originally slated to start on Sept 30. will now be pushed to the weekend of Oct. 22, said the GMHL in a statement.
“It was determined that a slight delay would ensure a strong start to the season for its three new expansion teams within that region.”
GHML has three other teams in northern B.C., Burns Lake Timbermen, Tumbler Ridge Steel Kings and Mackenzie Mountaineers.
The league was established in 2019 and currently has 10 teams that compete across Alberta and British Columbia for the majority of the season and 30 total spanning Ontario and Quebec as well, according to information on its website.
Moreover, the GMHL gives an opportunity for a lot of players in the northwest to be a part of a hockey team, which is why BC Hockey should be looking at the best interest of the players, Prue said.
BC Hockey says it has policies in place for leagues such as the GMHL which are considered non-sanctioned (it includes any amateur hockey league or program that operates in Canada outside of Hockey Canada registration and sanctioning).
Their long-standing policy clearly states that individuals (players and officials) who participate in non-sanctioned games, programs or leagues will not be eligible to participate in any BC Hockey sanctioned games.
BC Hockey CEO Cameron Hope said these non-sanctioned leagues, operate outside of the national and provincial governing bodies that have been in place for decades to ensure safety of players and members and fair enjoyment of the game. The revised policies came into effect in 2019.
At the same time, BC Hockey has also put systems in place to determine how issues such as injuries, harassment and rule infractions are handled, which many of the non-sanctioned leagues may not have.
Non-sanctioned programs try to employ coaches and administrators who have been trained by Hockey Canada and its members.
“Also, in many cases, these non-sanctioned teams and leagues are for-profit enterprises, where someone is trying to make money. There is nothing wrong with that, but it differentiates these leagues from the ones operated by your local MHA (minor hockey association),” Hope said.
GMHL players in northwest B.C. are known to have paid up to $10,000 to be a part of newer teams such as the Burns Lake Timbermen, whose roster features only two players who hail from the area.
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Hope also refuted the allegations of BC Hockey threatening the officials and members and said policies are only in place to ensure fairness toward the members and while officials and players are free to do games for non-sanctioned leagues, they will have to continue the year there so as to not cause any disruption and displacement for others.
“We encourage any form of hockey that gets players on the ice, and we have nothing at all against anyone who chooses non-sanctioned programming, but we really implore them to educate themselves about what the benefits are, of being inside the membership system or going outside and then players are free to make their choice and they’re even free to come back if they change their mind next year,” Hope added.