Junior League Gets In Line For Huntsville Franchise

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Junior league gets in line for Huntsville franchise

Another suitor is apparently in line to court Huntsville’s hockey faithful.

Bob Russell, the president and co-founder of the Greater Metro Hockey League, said he and his partners will reach out to Huntsville town officials as early as this week to see if they would welcome a new junior A franchise here.

“I have not approached the town yet, but I have talk to two or three owners in our league and there is interest in bringing Huntsville into the GMHL,” he said. “We really like the town and it’s a good place for hockey.”

There are believed to be two camps looking at putting a junior C franchise in town once the Ontario Junior Hockey League officially announces that the Huntsville Otters will contract once the 2011-2012 season concludes.

Russell, who along with league co-founder and manager Ken Girard, co-owns four other GMHL teams. He said he and his partners – including a Huntsville resident – would own the Huntsville team if the town were to accept them as tenants.

The GMHL is what some hockey watchers brand as an “outlaw” or “rebel” league. The league is not a member of Hockey Canada and its teams and players are not eligible to play in nationally or regionally sanctioned tournaments. It is one of two non-sanctioned leagues in Canada, with the other 40-year-old Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.

The GMHL teams are allowed to bring in junior-aged players from anywhere, including Europe and Russia, while Hockey Canada-sanctioned teams are limited to mainly Canadian players.

The “outlaw’ league also allows for overage players to skate one more year with their clubs, consistent with the rules followed by the major junior leagues.
While the OJHL has reduced the number of its teams in recent years – three more, including the Otters, are to be contracted at the end of the season – from 37 to around 22 or 24 teams, the GMHL has increased its fold from seven teams in its first year to 14 this season.

The league has announced that four more teams – Halton Hills, Rama/Orillia, Powassan and a second team in Bradford – will join the fold for the next year.
There are presently teams from as far north as Thessalon to the Toronto area in the south.

The South Muskoka Shield, based out of Gravenhurst, is a charter member of the league and has become a dynasty in the loop, winning the playoff championship in 2009 and making the finals the following two seasons.

The GMHL has had some of its players accepted to National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 3 schools while other players have been signed to low-level minor or international contracts with professional teams. The league is not seen as a high level option for younger players looking to move on to NCAA programs. It is largely viewed by the hockey community as a last option to continue playing.

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