First Nations allege junior hockey league poached their players, leaving their teams in jeopardy

Five Manitoba First Nations have launched a lawsuit and want an injunction to be granted to block a newly-minted junior hockey league they allege has poached some of their players.

5 First Nations allege confidential information was used to start up new league

The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 31 and is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages. (Shutterstock / AlexTois)

Five Manitoba First Nations have launched a lawsuit and want an injunction to be granted to block a newly-minted junior hockey league they allege has poached some of their players.

The five communities behind the lawsuit are Peguis First Nation, Norway House Cree Nation, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Fisher River Cree Nation and Cross Lake First Nation.

Together they filed a statement of claim with the Queen's Bench on Oct. 31 against the new Capital Region Junior Hockey League, a number of Interlake hockey teams and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association as well as Hockey Manitoba.

The First Nations are seeking damages for alleged breaches of contract with players. They allege the governors of teams in Manitoba's Keystone Junior Hockey League used confidential information to their advantage for the new league.

In a press release sent Thursday, the First Nations said the alleged poaching has depleted remaining teams in the north to the point their viability has been threatened.

The Peguis First Nation's arena seats 2,200 and has an NHL-sized rink. (CBC)

"Junior hockey is an integral part of our northern First Nation communities, and we will do whatever it takes to hold Hockey Manitoba and the Capital Junior Hockey League accountable for their actions," said Chief Glenn Hudson of Peguis First Nation in a release.

In Peguis, the community built a new multimillion-dollar NHL-sized rink that opened in 2014. It's used by hockey players and there's now concern the space will go to waste.  

Lawsuit goes after Hockey Manitoba

The Capital Region Junior Hockey League was created in May when the Arborg Ice Dawgs, the Lundar Falcons, the Selkirk Fishermen, the St. Malo Warriors and the North Winnipeg Satelites withdrew from the Keystone Junior Hockey League that included the five First Nation teams.

The northern teams complained to Hockey Manitoba after the southern teams withdrew from the league and say in court documents a decision by the governing body ruled the players in the KJHL had to get a release to register in the new league and pay a $500 fee.

Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday night. The lawsuit alleges Hockey Manitoba has failed to enforce its decision and says as a result damages have been suffered.

The statement of claim also alleges Rick Olson, who was president of the KJHL, breached his obligations to that league when he became president of the Capital Region league while still in the other role.

Olson didn't want to do an interview with CBC News on Thursday night but said he is no longer involved with either league.

None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been proven in court and no statements of defence has been filed as of Thursday night.

The First Nations are holding a press conference in Winnipeg on Friday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the lawsuit.

About the Author

Austin Grabish

Reporter

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg​ where he files for TV, web and radio. ​​Born and raised in Manitoba, Austin has had an itch for news since he was young. He landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country.​ Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca