Saskatoon

Teams in prominent Sask. Midget hockey league told to 'reapply' for spots

Established teams in Saskatchewan's top midget hockey league might be dropped in favour of new ones by next year.

Sask. Hockey Association inviting applications from communities without an existing Midget AAA team

Some Saskatchewan communities might lose their Midget AAA hockey team in favour of other communities after the 2019-20 season. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports)

Saskatchewan communities that for decades have been able to watch potential future NHLers play for their Midget AAA team could lose their place in the league by next year.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association issued a memorandum in May stating that all minor hockey associations with male Midget AAA and Midget AA teams must "reapply" if they wish to continue in their respective leagues.

That includes teams in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL), which has consistently sent players to the Western Hockey League, Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and higher levels of hockey.

Are we in the right places or are we not in the right places? Are we at the right number of teams?- SHA general manager Kelly McClintock

The same process was utilized in the province's female Midget AAA, Midget AA and Bantam AA ranks and, at the Midget AAA level, resulted in Melville losing its team after last season.

Any minor hockey association currently without a male Midget AA or Midget AAA team is invited to apply for entry into the respective leagues.

Kelly McClintock, general manager of the SHA, said up to 12 communities will win the right to host a Midget AAA team for the 2020-21 season and beyond.

McClintock said the current AAA teams were warned about two years ago that this was coming.

"Our board just felt it's time to undertake a review of our system," he said. "Are we in the right places or are we not in the right places? Are we at the right number of teams?"

He said the SHA wants to make sure there are opportunities for the better players to play close to home.

McClintock said the minor hockey associations that do apply have to satisfy certain conditions, including demonstrating they have ample local coaching resources, a billet co-ordinator, an educational consultant and an agreement with a local school. He said they also need a Midget AA team to ensure there are enough affiliate players available for the Midget AAA club.

"We just want them to be able to have a real good support base of volunteers and an actual kind of background administration to look after and make sure that the team is run well and that the kids are taken care of," he said.

Teams have until October 1 to submit their applications. The SHA's board of directors, with input from a committee that includes the president of the SMAAAHL, is scheduled to announce the successful applicants on November 15.

McClintock is well aware that teams could learn early in the season that they are playing their final campaign.

"There's some people who didn't like it on the female side that we did it in November and during the season," he said. "But the fact is teams start determining their spring camps and having to book ice months out."

McClintock said he "could maybe see one or two changes" being made — and he is certain some communities are concerned they will lose their team.

"There's some teams that probably think that they might be on a bubble and might not agree with it," he said.

McClintock said the SHA has to look at what's in the best interests of all the member associations of Saskatchewan, not just one particular community.

"So we've got to look at access to programming for kids across the entire province."

Executives with the SMAAAHL did not respond to CBC's requests for comment.

As of Thursday morning only two of the existing teams had submitted applications, but McClintock said teams were likely waiting until the October 1 deadline to file their papers.

He had yet to receive any applications from a community that currently doesn't have a Midget AAA team, but he said there are three or four of them that are rumoured to be eyeing a team.

The Warman Minor Hockey Association has been open about its desire to land a Midget AAA team, including opening a Twitter account devoted to the bid.

Cam Kayter, one of the people leading the Warman initiative, said the community has a well-established minor hockey program, many coaching resources and a new rink, the 1,178-seat Legends Centre, which opened in 2012.

Kayter said Warman's minor hockey program has grown significantly in recent years and now has about 650 kids registered.

"Between 2011 and 2016, we were the fastest growing city in Canada, he said. "So we've grown by about 55 per cent and that's also matched our growth within our hockey association."

Kayter said there has been a lot of support and encouragement to submit a bid from people outside of the community, and added "it just made sense" for Warman to pursue a Midget AAA club.

"It would really show how our community is growing," he said.

About the Author

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

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