Committee Struck To Merge Junior D Teams With Junior C

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Committee struck to merge junior D teams with junior C

Four years after the Mitchell Hawks moved up from the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League (SOJHL) to the Western Jr. C Hockey League in the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), a committee has been struck to look at merging all the remaining 15 junior D teams into junior C.

On the committee is Mitchell Hawks’ assistant coach Kory Dietz, who was manager/coach when the Hawks made the jump from D to C to open the 2008-09 season.

OHA Junior Chair John Kastner said the latest proposals he’s seen from the fledgling committee “have been better received than anything in the past,” which bodes well on the area junior D teams successfully integrating with the area junior C teams sooner rather than later.

The move could take effect as early as next season, 2012-13, depending on the final proposal brought forward and the subsequent vote at the OHA annual meeting this June.

“I don’t know what it all entails – yet,” said Dietz. “But it is going to happen. We just have to figure out how it’s best going to fit.

“The biggest thing is the quality of play, it’s not going to improve overall. The depth of junior C teams-wise will improve, but talent-wise it won’t.”

When Mitchell joined the Western Jr. C League, it went from six to seven teams. Currently, the SOJHL has 15 teams split into two conferences – eight in the McConnell Conference (Delhi, Hagersville, Wellesley, St. George, Ayr, Tavistock, Burford, Norfolk) and seven in the Yeck Conference (Exeter, Lambeth, Thamesford, Mt. Brydges, North Middlesex, Port Stanley and Lucan). Even before Mitchell left, there was discussion about other teams (Mt. Brydges and North Middlesex, specifically) also making the jump to Junior C, but it never happened for one reason or another.

Now, the merger committee, which is co-chaired by Karen Phibbs and Tom Strauch, will work on mixing and matching the teams to fit in the appropriate league, Kastner noted.

The move clearly affects the Western and Niagara District leagues the most. The Niagara league is currently split into two divisions, with Grimsby (the defending OHA Schmalz Cup champ), Glanbrook, Dundas, Caledonia, Chippawa and Dunnville in the east; and the west comprising New Hamburg, Norwich, Simcoe, Aylmer, Paris and Woodstock.

Geographically, some of the McConnell Conference teams would seem to fit in to the Niagara west division, while most of the Yeck Conference squads could move to the Western league, and a new division could be created, called north and south. The current seven-team Western Jr. C league could make up the north (including Mitchell), while a set of new clubs would form the south.

Dietz didn’t know if interlocking games would be part of any new realignment, but he personally hopes there would be some sort of interlock.

Kastner said the biggest drawback all along was how the leagues would look like, and the draw area for players. In the proposal, any area the teams would draw from would also become the league’s draw area. For example, if Mitchell has Huron-Perth as a draw area, if a team in the league draws out of Bruce or Middlesex, Mitchell could, too.

“It makes every team in the same league on the same footing,” Kastner said. “This sets you up for more success. And it sets everybody up to be equal.”

The potential drawback in that, though, is the increased number of teams a player can play for, upping the ante and creating what some might look at as a bidding war.

Kastner said he would hope the recent heavy fine ($25,000) and a three-year suspension to longtime executive members in Norwich after they were caught illegally compensating players would curb any bidding war amongst teams for potential players.

“I would hope that puts a lid on that boiling pot and settle it down pretty good,” he said.

He also downplayed the suggestion that junior D teams, or even some junior C programs, would fold once the merger takes effect.

“None of the scenarios that I’ve looked at sees teams disappear,” Kastner said. “The OHA’s not in the business of putting teams out of business. We’re caretakers of the game in Ontario so we want more people playing, and from a straight fiscal standpoint, each team pays money in to the OHA, so the more teams the better.”

Andy Bader

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