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Manitoba League Turns The Page

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Manitoba League turns the page May 23, 2012 6:55 AM

The year is finaly over, and it was the most troublesome Manitoba Junior Hockey League season in history.

It started with the controversial Neepawa Natives hazing incident and it ended when one of the last city teams on the circuit was sold to a rural centre — after failing to keep a lid on those negotiations. It also included a 12-game suspension to Dauphin Kings head coach Marlin Murray for throwing a temper tantrum during a playoff game.

The Neepawa situation alone left a black mark on the entire league because it was so disturbing as it involved tying water bottles around the genitals of at least one player. The league attempted damage control by investigating the situation, then bringing in the RCMP to conduct an independent one. Even that wasn’t enough as a retired cop was later brought in. Suspensions and fines followed, along with emergency meetings to bring in new rules and counselling for the players. Corporate sponsors withdrew their support and many Natives players were granted requests to leave, including the player that was picked on.

The Neepawa club somehow found a way to recover enough to ice a team for the rest of the season, and is trying to win back support. But it’s going to take a long time to overcome that dark memory and infamous reputation.

Then there was the sale of the Winnipeg Saints. Negotiations were ongoing during the playoffs and both the seller and buyer were trying to keep them quiet even after it was revealed in the press. In the end, the Saints were sold to a group in Virden, leaving only one city team left (Winnipeg Blues) in the MJHL. While that left a lot of people in Winnipeg unhappy, the people in southwestern Manitoba were overjoyed.

Travel for teams in western Manitoba will not only be improved, but it will make it more difficult for the Blues and other teams closer to the city. Unfortunately, more Winnipeg players will now have to leave town to play in the league.

The season of change has only just begun for teams and players in Manitoba. As fans we can only hope that strong leadership can be counted on to guide everyone through.

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