The Great Lakes Junior Hockey League The Change

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The Great Lakes Junior Hockey League – The Change

Leadership is a quality found in people that can be either good or bad. It is the intent behind that leadership that determines the quality of leadership. If the intent of a leader is to personally gain from others and others do not share in the gain, leadership then becomes a manipulation of power. Leadership when properly initiated is a quality that will be uplifting to all of those people who follow and not just the leader.

The most successful leagues in Junior Hockey are partnerships among the member teams. The competition remains on the ice, but the teams work to improve the league and assist each other in the development of its players which raises the level of the league as a whole. The most successful leagues dispense punishment as equally as they try to be uplifting to all of its member teams. These attributes can be directly attributed to strong leadership.

Owners leaving the GLJHL have stated that the league was not a partnership in their opinion, that it was run as a dictatorship and was manipulated by certain leaders when it suited them. This was one of the primary reason for teams leaving the league. One owner stated they felt "bullied" at times when decisions were being made. Another stated that they felt they had no choice but to seek membership in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League because they thought the GLJHL was making a mistake by attempting to force members to AAU.

For those who dont follow the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League, it is leaving USA Hockey for the confines of AAU sanctioning. In no way is this a commentary on AAU as they have some great people involved and Ron White leading the WSHL has done a great job with the transition from USA Hockey to AAU. AAU is one of the best sporting bodies in the world and provides an excellent level of service to its members.

The reasons for the GLJHL to leave USA Hockey are many and varied. Limitations on the ability to expand is one of the main reasons, but one has to dig deeper to get to the heart of all the issues.

The GLJHL applied to move the Indianapolis Inferno to Soo Michigan, USA Hockey denied that move. The GLJHL then applied to move the Inferno to St. Ignace Michigan as the team was being sold to a local ownership group. USA Hockey approved this move.

Unfortunately, the GLJHL never intended that St. Ignace be the permanent home for this relocated team. The intent was always to play the majority of games in Soo Michgan. The proof was found in the custom built dressing room at Big Bear Arena when MAHA conducted an investigation. After investigating and appeal to USA Hockey was made, and the sanctioning for the fictional St. Ignace team was revoked.

When contacted via email by TJHN, MAHA President George Atkinson stated;

"When the St Ignace team was approved MAHA originally sought to appeal the decision on two points. The first was the fact that this request should not have been considered as it did not fit the definition of exigent circumstance and the second was that we did not receive timely notification prior to the Junior Council conference call. When others found out we were appealing, they contacted us and gave us information about the fact the team did not appear to be making St Igance their home base. We felt that this information was relevant as well and included it in our appeal. I don’t know what impact that had on the appeal but obviously the appeal was upheld so it may have had some impact.

From what we have seen, MAHA does feel that the GLJHL was clear with the Junior Council on where the team planned to play. In a letter submitted to the Junior Council by the GLJHL president Gerry Lullove, as part of the application package, he very clearly asked for approval for a team to play out of St Ignace. Based on the timeline of when things happened after the approval and information submitted by other parties as part of the proposal submitted by the GLJHL, we feel that Mr. Lullove probably was aware of the teams true intentions. If he wasn’t he certainly did nothing to correct the situation once he became aware of it prior to the submission of our appeal. Had we received the materials in a more timely manner for the Junior Council conference call for the approval, we may have notice the inconsistencies between Big Bear & Little Bear Arenas used in the proposal provided to the Junior Council and probably would have participated in the Junior Council conference call to get clarification of their true intentions."

Mr. Atkinson went on further in saying, "Gerry Lulove is a current MAHA District 2 Director. He has a duty of loyalty to MAHA and USA Hockey. He will be able to hold his position until his term is up for election again (he could run again if he chooses to) or until such time as he is no longer able or willing to fulfill his obligations to our association."

Contrary to information provided to GLJHL member teams, and contrary to prevailing rumors, MAHA is not against Tier III expansion in Michigan at all. MAHA favors no league over another, and would simply prefer movement of teams to those areas that they do not feel are over saturated. That makes complete sense when looking at development and creating relationships between Junior programs and those programs that feed junior hockey. This information should clarify MAHA’s position to those who have speculated in the past that MAHA was against Tier III or the GLJHL in general, they clearly are not.

The GLJHL presents a different side of the story. League Leadership states that they have left USA Hockey for AAU in order to protect a sale agreement with one of its member franchises. This is a sign of the leaderships loyalty to one of its founding members. Such loyalty is admirable indeed. Take note that TJHN made a special publication yesterday stating the GLJHL side of this story as they have released it.

TJHN would like to make clear that this article is not about the people involved in the GLJHL. There are people we like and respect involved in the league as it moves forward. This is a story intended to describe the events and actions leading to this change only.

Upon deciding to leave USA Hockey, GLJHL leadership is telling its member teams that the league would be going to AAU. When put to a vote though, league members voted the move down by 9 to 2.

After loosing the vote, GLJHL leadership said that they would essentially re-start the league with the teams that wanted to go AAU and replace the teams that did not want to go AAU with expansion teams. That plan is now in the works.

Howell Michigan under the ownership of Scott Gardiner former NAHL Coach of the Traverse City North Stars, Sault St. Marie Doug and Paula Goudreau, Toledo Ohio under Hart Duddy, Motor City Chiefs under Gerry Lullove, Michigan Ice Dogs Terry Kucharski, and the Kankakee Kingfish under John Rudolph former owner of the Madison Ice Muskies in the AAHL, will make up the core of the reformed GLJHL under AAU. Other teams are expected to be added.

Although Alpena Michigan was once thought to be an expansion location, sources have informed TJHN that a group in Alpena is pursuing an NA3HL expansion franchise for the 2013 season.

Eight of the former GLJHL teams have joined the Minnesota Junior Hockey League remaining under the sanctioning of USA Hockey.

This move toward AAU from some teams was the worst kept secret in junior hockey. But why the delay to announce when everybody was talking about it? According to GLJHL sources, league leadership was waiting for some type of reimbursement from USA Hockey for over payment of referee fee’s. This does not make sense when USA Hockey would refund any money owed regardless of who it may be owed to or what organization they may be aligned with or from.

The political games being played have been amazing to watch. While the USA Hockey teams move forward, the GLJHL has been soliciting new owners.

One colleague told TJHN that we may be hurting players by publishing this information. After weeks of thought and discussion, we felt that writing this article would in fact be informing the players, parents, arenas and fans. If people involved do not know what they are getting into, if they do not understand the history of what has taken place, they can not make informed decisions on their future.

The disappointing thing in all of this is that the GLJHL has become a better league for players every year until this point. Players have been getting better, some have begun receiving ACHA opportunity and some have moved on to higher level leagues. To see this pattern of growth and development be changed now is very puzzeling.

Will the GLJHL under AAU offer opportunity to players? Certainly it will. Will the GLJHL in its new form offer the same caliber of play and development that it has in recent years? That is going to be left for debate in the upcoming 2012-2013 season. With rookie owners and inexperience leading expansion it is buyer beware.

Common sense would say that players will go to USA Hockey sanctioned teams first and AAU teams in the Mid West second. In traditional hockey markets where the overwhelming majority of teams and players are within the USA Hockey family, people will continue to do business with those they have a long standing relationship with. In non traditional hockey markets, AAU sanctioned leagues can not only have success but they can thrive. It is strange now to see a league that has come so far risk reverting to what many may see as an inferior league.

The only way to survive and grow the GLJHL now is to attract strong operators. Experienced staff, and people that will take the task of player development seriously. Such a mass exodus leaves questions, but it also creates opportunity. The teams that stayed with the league must help new teams recruit and organize. If no training plan is available one must be developed. If no operational manuals exist they must be written. Product quality can be assured to the player, parent, sponsor, and fans by putting systems in place that are uniform. According to now former owners, these items have not existed in the past. In the end, this may turn out to be an opportunity for growth for the league, and professional growth for those involved with the league.

When looking at these events, one must ask themselves why the majority of teams did not choose to go the direction of the few? Why would they choose to join a new league and possibly spend more money to join when presented with the information from GLJHL leadership concerning the new league direction? Why would GLJHL leadership not abide by the majority vote to stay with USA Hockey until after the June meetings where midget aged player options and voting will take place?

If the answers to those questions are reasonable and rational, we wish you the very best when playing in the GLJHL in the future. There is no question they will survive this, but at what cost?

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