Northern Ontario Junior A hockey swells with CIHL entry

This coming hockey season will be a busy one in northeastern Ontario, with three Junior A hockey leagues operating in the region with a total of 15 teams.

This coming hockey season will be a busy one in northeastern Ontario, with three Junior A hockey leagues operating in the region with a total of 15 teams.

New to the game is the Canadian International Hockey League. Its first season begins this fall with four teams from Sudbury, Espanola, St. Charles and Batchewana First Nation. 

Director of communications Brent Cooper said having fans to play in front of is important, but that's not where teams get most of their money.

"Your business is promoting junior players onward," he said.

Almost all Junior A clubs now charge players to play for them.

A teenager or their parents will pay several thousand dollars a season to be seen by scouts and maybe end up in the Ontario Hockey League or at a U.S. College. 

The new league's Sudbury entry, the Greater Sudbury Royals, will charge players between $2,000 and $4,000 for the season. 

'We just can't get enough'

But the fiercest competition between hockey teams in Sudbury could be the battle to get fans in the bleachers.

Hockey watchers in the city already get their pick of the OHL's Sudbury Wolves, the Laurentian University Voyageurs and the Sudbury Nickel Barons of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. These teams only drew an average of 146 fans per game last year — among the lowest in their league.

Logo for Sudbury's newest junior hockey team, the Greater Sudbury Royals. Plans call for the team to play out of the Capreol Arena this winter in the inaugural season of the Canadian International Hockey League. (Courtesy of Canadian International Hockey League)

But Greater Sudbury Royals Director of Operations K.B. Beals isn't worried about drawing crowds to their home rink at the Capreol Arena.

"If you know Sudbury, you'll know it's a hockey hub," he said. "There are avid hockey fans out there. And when it comes to hockey, us real hockey fans, we just can't enough."

Bob Russell is the president of the Greater Metro Hockey League. It has two teams in the Northeast and generally charges players around $3,500 per season.

He isn't worried about increased competition.

"It doesn't really matter how many teams there are," said Russell. "This is a big planet and there's lots of hockey players around."

False dreams?

But Sudbury sports blogger Randy Pascal does worry about a business model that depends on players paying.

"If it plays upon the false dreams of parents and players as to what they hope to get out of it, then that's a little bit of a concern," he said.

The more established Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League is also now charging players and has expanded to nine teams for this winter — the most it has had in years.

The contenders

Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League

  • Founded: 1962
  • Teams in the Northeast: Abitibi Eskimos (Iroquois Falls), Blind River Beavers, Elliot Lake Wildcats, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Mattawa Blackhawks, Powassan Voodoos, Soo Thunderbirds, Sudbury Nickel Barons and Cochrane Crunch
  • Rules: Set by Hockey Canada. Focus on developing Canadian players, allowed six Americans per roster.

Greater Metro Hockey League

  • Founded: 2006
  • Teams in the Northeast: Sturgeon Falls Lumberjacks, Sundridge Spartans, Seguin Huskies
  • Rules: Is a so-called "outlaw league" outside of Hockey Canada. About half of the players are from the US or elsewhere in the world, including non-traditional hockey nations like Mexico and Japan.

Canadian International Hockey League

  • Founded: 2014
  • Teams in the Northeast: Batchewana Attack, EspanolaRivermen, Greater Sudbury Royals, St. Charles Spirit
  • Rules: Also not governed by Hockey Canada. Allows American and European players, as well as 15-year-olds.


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