Beardy's Blackhawks, Notre Dame Argos to be eliminated from Sask. midget AAA

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association has eliminated the Beardy's Blackhawks and the Notre Dame Argos from its midget AAA league. They will be replaced by teams in Warman and Estevan.

Estevan, Warman to field teams starting in 2020-21 season

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association has decided to move teams from Beardy's Okemasis Cree Nation and Notre Dame to Warman and Estevan. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Midget AAA Beardy's Blackhawks and Notre Dame Argos will soon be no more.

They will be replaced by teams in Estevan and Warman starting in the 2020-21 season. 

Over the last three years the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) has been reviewing female Midget and Bantam level hockey, along with the men's and women's AAA and AA leagues. 

Midget AAA teams were given until Oct. 1, 2019 to "reapply" to continue to play in their respective league. The SHA assessed those applications and published its decision on Tuesday.

Teams were required to meet certain conditions, including demonstrating they have ample local coaching resources, a billet coordinator, an educational consultant and an agreement with a local school. They also need a Midget AA team to ensure there are enough affiliate players available for the Midget AAA club.

SHA general manager Kelly McClintock said the league wanted to keep 12 teams at the Midget AAA level.

"Midget triple A, we define it as elite hockey and to play elite hockey you move away etcetera, and we didn't want to water it down that much," McClintock said. "In reality we are opening it up to more Saskatchewan players."

He said the decision to add teams in Estevan and Warman opens up 20 more positions for Saskatchewan-born hockey players.

The decision to cut the local Midget AAA team is being decried in Beardy's and Okemasis Cree Nation, the home of the Blackhawks, located roughly 80 kilometres north of Saskatoon. 

"Parents are taking it pretty hard, a lot of our competitors are not taking it very lightly, and it's devastating for us," Beardy's Minor Hockey Association board member Rick Gamble said.

"We've been doing this for 25 years and we've created a program, I thought, that was probably second to none coming out of First Nations country."

Gamble said alumni from the program include NHLers DJ and Dwight King and Linden Vey. 

McClintock said Beardy's history and contributions to the hockey community were discussed, but decisions around the team's future were ultimately made based on the SHA's criteria it created.

"The decision was made to stick with 12 teams and we had to evaluate the applications based on the criteria, and that was the key in all of this, the criteria," McClintock said.

'Flawed' process will be challenged: Beardy's

Gamble said Beardy's Minor Hockey Association feels the process was flawed and even pre-determined. 

He told CBC he had heard rumours that the team was "on the chopping block" as early as this summer.

He said the club is not done and will fight the decision. 

"We're not happy with [the decision] at all, and to me, it's an indication of the lack of appreciation for reconciliation," Gamble said. 

McClintock disputed Gamble's claim.

"There was no associations on the chopping block," McClintock said. "If that was the case, Saskatchewan Hockey would never have asked for applications, it would have just went ahead and [eliminated the team]."

Gamble said Beardy's Minor Hockey Association wasn't sure how effective an appeal into SHA's decision would be, but said it would try. He said the association would consult it's legal team about taking the matter to the courts. 

McClintock said the decision cannot be appealed as it was made by the SHA's board of governors.

With files from Kelly Provost