"You gotta keep 'em separated" The Offspring's Come Out And Play
It’s a whole new world for junior hockey leagues, teams, coaches, and players. The turmoil is being felt coast to coast and there is no apparent end in sight. Maybe it is also time to come up with some fresh new ideas to move forward with.
In the past, the border between the United States and Canada has been blurred when it came to hockey. Canadian and United States players crossed back and forth easily without much concern from officials on either side of the line. Toss COVID into the mix and everything is changing. I’m watching NHL hockey in August with not a soul in the seats. Folks, it’s just weird. I’m afraid things are about to get stranger.
At the major Junior level there are five United States based teams within the Western Hockey League (Portland, Seattle, Everett, Spokane and Tri-City) and another three teams in the Ontario Hockey League (Saginaw, Flint, and Erie).
Five other United States based teams compete within the structure of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. Wenatchee with the British Columbia Hockey League, Thief River and Wisconsin in the Superior International Junior Hockey League, Soo in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, and Buffalo in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
As of this morning, all these teams have serious issues moving forward due to issues crossing the border and within their own state and local governments.
Even coaches and players are feeling the crunch with minimal relief in sight regarding moving to and from teams within both countries. Meaning players from the US trying to get to Canadian teams and vice versa. At this point, we are hearing about a few players making it across while others being turned away.
All this uncertainty raises both short- and long-term logistical questions. Does continuing to move back and forth across the border really make sense?
Maybe the time is right to push through a few ideal situations.
The WHL's Portland, Seattle, Tri-City, Everett, Spokane, and BCHL's Wenatchee are the perfect nucleus for a NCAA eligible northwest regional Tier I league. Let's go ahead and include Boise and Anchorage into the mix while we are there.
The OHL's Saginaw, Flint, and Erie would fit very nicely into the United States Hockey League. The USHL should allow the three to join without the burden of the initial membership fee. Bringing the teams into the tier I league would only enhance the USHL brand’s image.
The SIJHL’s teams in Thief River and Wisconsin could work with the NOJHL’s Soo Eagles to create a new Great Lakes regional hockey league. There are plenty of strong markets like Marquette, Traverse City, and Alpena that could nicely fill in the blanks.
Considering the current landscape of junior hockey, these changes simply make a ton of logistical sense. The Canadian Hockey League’s David Branch will scream from the ceiling to the floor over the loss of US markets, but the truth is that he only has his own government’s heavy-handed over-reaction to blame.
Regardless of everyone’s political position, we all know that it’s all but impossible to reel in government control. Today’s COVID crisis response will likely be the new normal for every bug that makes it across the ponds.
That certainty puts ideas like the ones above into serious consideration.
Author: Stephen Heisler from JuniorHockey.com Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.
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