Junior hockey

Mixed reaction to SOJHL becoming Jr. C league

Jacob Robinson

By Jacob Robinson, Simcoe Reformer

Trevor Biehn and the Delhi Travellers will be a Junior C organization next season, yet still play within the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League structure for one year. (JACOB ROBINSON Simcoe Reformer)

Trevor Biehn and the Delhi Travellers will be a Junior C organization next season, yet still play within the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League structure for one year. (JACOB ROBINSON Simcoe Reformer)

The first step towards the Ontario Hockey Association’s “Tomorrow’s Game” initiative was taken last week.

The OHA released a statement on Thursday following a board of directors meeting stating the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League — the Junior D loop that includes both the Delhi Travellers and Norfolk Rebels — will play at the C level beginning next season.

The move comes three years after the OHA board stated its long-term goal of having ust three junior hockey divisions, eliminating Junior D altogether.

The SOJHL clubs will continue with their regular schedule for next season, and may integrate in the Schmalz Cup (Junior C playoffs) — presumably just the league champion. However, the release stated that would only happen if “suitable timelines and playoff formats can be arrived at before the start of the upcoming season.”

Sweeping changes will be made next summer when all SOJHL squads will be realigned into existing Junior C leagues for the 2013-14 campaign.

Travellers president Mike McElhone said all organizations within the SOJHL must thoroughly assess their individual situations.

“Everyone’s got to decide if they want to be in it and try and be as competitive as possible or they may be history,” he said. “A team that’s there at the end this year will have a better chance than a team that’s just struggling getting by. This league is probably going to have to get a little more competitive I think to try and compete with the other (Junior C) teams.

“I think the big thing is, now C teams can’t pick up your better D players that are on your team. I guess that’s kind of the bonus for us.”

McElhone went on to say his team would prefer a realignment scenario that would see teams based in Norfolk, Haldimand and Brant County playing one another in 2013-14 rather than still traveling to places like Tavistock and Wellesley.

The decision to allow SOJHL teams to stay within their own league for one season — which was voted on by the team managers — is puzzling to Simcoe Storm (Niagara Junior C League) president and general manager Darren DeDobbelaer.

“(Junior) D is having a new category called ‘C’ and they’re continuing to play in their own division, which is stupid. Why don’t you call us 'OHL,' but we get to play in our own division and we don’t qualify for the Memorial Cup,” said the longtime Storm manager.

“It’s silly, you’re either in or you’re out. If you want to play Junior C, that’s fine, come play us. They want to be called Junior C, but stay in their own league? It’s ridiculous, and all that’s doing is preventing players from moving up to Junior C. Now they can officially stop player movement. All it’s done is defeated the whole purpose of making hockey better.”

DeDobbelaer said he has no issue with competing against Norfolk or Delhi come 2013-14, but like McElhone, worries that a group of teams in a very condensed area could leave some without a place to play.

“It doesn’t matter to me, competition's good for hockey, I just hope it doesn’t eliminate teams because then that’s even less kids in hockey,” he said.

“And if teams like Simcoe, Port Dover, Norwich, Delhi — if us four teams within 30 miles of each other all say ‘this is silly, we’re all banging heads against each other’ so two teams have to drop out, whoever they may be, that just means there’s 60 boys now … not playing hockey. So I’m not really sure what this will accomplish.

“I think there’ll definitely be some casualties.”

Delhi has long been a team with a loyal following and competitive rosters, but that isn’t the case for others such as the Rebels. A move up — in addition to a possible rise in OHA membership fees — will be a challenge financially.

“Everybody’s attendance is down. When your attendance is down, your revenues are down and it’s just harder to compete,” said McElhone. “As long as you can stay competitive, competitive players want to come play for you. If you’re a last-place team and you’re looking to bring in a top notch player, they won’t look at a team that won’t be around long.”

Norfolk Rebels president Shawn Monkman and vice president Bob Howden were unable to be reached as of press time.

Both SOJHL Brant County teams, the Burford Bulldogs and St. George Dukes , have praised the move, saying they’re excited about bringing another level of play to their community.

DeDobbelaer said each team will now need to look more towards their local minor association to help fill out their roster.

“You just have to work stronger with Simcoe Minor Hockey and hope that their program keeps accelerating and then when the midgets go over-age, just sign 'em all,” he said. “Why is a boy going to drive from Brantford to Simcoe now? For what reason? ... He would drive to Simcoe to play another calibre of hockey, but he’s not going to drive through five towns to play the same calibre.”

• The OHA announced the SOJHL could include another team for next season. The board approved the application of a Dorchester club, pending the determination of a drawing area for players as well as a new drawing area for the Niagara Junior C Aylmer Spitfires.

Jacob Robinson

519-426-3528 ext. 121

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