KJHL teams of­fered to pay to keep league in­tact: lawyer

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS / MANITOBA - BILL RE­DEKOP bill.re­dekop@freep­ress.mb.ca

MAN­I­TOBA First Na­tions-based hockey teams say they of­fered sched­ul­ing changes and money to non-First Na­tions clubs to keep the 10-team Key­stone Ju­nior Hockey League (KJHL) in­tact prior to the 201819 sea­son.

The of­fers were de­clined. The Ju­nior B cir­cuit broke in half, with the five south­ern teams form­ing the Cap­i­tal Re­gion Ju­nior Hockey League (CRJHL), a move that al­legedly did not fol­low the KJHL con­sti­tu­tion, nor of­fer reme­dies ac­cept­able to the First Na­tions fran­chises.

“The email I got back (from the new CRJHL) said that in­clu­sion or re­turn of First Na­tions (teams) is not ne­go­tiable,” Jamie Ka­gan, a lawyer with Thomp­son Dorf­man Sweat­man who rep­re­sents the re­main­ing KJHL teams, said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day.

In re­sponse, the four First Na­tion­based teams — Peguis Ju­niors, Opaskwayak Cree Na­tion Storm, Cross Lake Is­lan­ders and Nor­way House North Stars (the Fisher River Hawks are on a leave of ab­sence from the league) — last week launched a le­gal chal­lenge seek­ing a court-or­dered in­junc­tion to stop the CRJHL from op­er­at­ing.

A con­tested mo­tion hear­ing is set for Dec. 19.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hud­son said First Na­tions put a high pri­or­ity on fund­ing its youth sports, such as hockey.

“We’re will­ing to put those costs for­ward be­cause that’s part of their growth, part of their dreams and as­pi­ra­tions, to let them be the best play­ers they can be,” Hud­son said Fri­day.

First Na­tions res­i­dents have dreams just like other peo­ple, Nor­way House Chief Lar­son An­der­son added.

“We want our play­ers to play in the NHL. What’s wrong with that?” he said.

The league, which has been in op­er­a­tion since 1977, is not con­sid­ered a strong de­vel­op­men­tal league, rank­ing be­hind the Man­i­toba Ju­nior Hockey League (Ju­nior A) and West­ern Hockey League (ma­jor ju­nior) in player de­vel­op­ment.

Per­haps the league’s most fa­mous alum­nus is for­ward Dar­ren Helm of the Detroit Red Wings. Helm, now in the third year of a five-year, US$19.25-mil­lion NHL con­tract, started his ju­nior ca­reer with the Selkirk Fishermen.

Of­fi­cials with the new CRJHL (com­prised of the St. Malo War­riors, Selkirk, Lun­dar Fal­cons, North Win­nipeg Satelites and Ar­borg Ice Dawgs) say they will not speak to the is­sue while it is in lit­i­ga­tion.

How­ever, in pre­vi­ous state­ments, the CRJHL cited travel times and ex­penses for south­ern teams play­ing road games in the north, along with par­ents’ fears of ac­ci­dents in the wake of the Hum­boldt Bron­cos fa­tal bus crash in Saskatchewan in April.

CRJHL of­fi­cials have also said long road trips con­flict with play­ers who have jobs or at­tend post-sec­ondary school, and keep­ing travel to an hour and a half out­side Win­nipeg has made it eas­ier to at­tract play­ers.

On Fri­day, Hud­son poked holes in that ar­gu­ment.

“Peguis is only 30 min­utes away from Ar­borg. It’s only 40 min­utes away from Lun­dar,” he said, adding teams in Lun­dar and Ar­borg travel two hours to play in St. Malo.

Ka­gan said sep­a­rat­ing teams along racial lines isn’t what hockey’s about.

“These play­ers from Win­nipeg go up and play in Peguis and hang out with the kids... and re­al­ize they have a lot more in com­mon than the me­dia or oth­ers might say,” the lawyer said. “What comes out of that is they re­al­ize those peo­ple are a lot like them.”

Ka­gan said the First Na­tions teams also of­fered to play an un­bal­anced sched­ule to re­duce the south­ern teams’ travel, and even sug­gested cham­pi­onship play­offs be­tween north­ern and south­ern teams.

Some ob­servers have sug­gested one rea­son be­hind the split was the re­cent run of suc­cess for Peguis, who won the last three KJHL cham­pi­onship ti­tles.

“When the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers or the New York Is­lan­ders were (the NHL’s) best teams, did (other teams) pull out?” Hud­son said in re­sponse. “They don’t. It’s all part of the game.”

In the mean­time, the four ac­tive KJHL teams have drawn up a sched­ule and be­gan play on Oct. 27. The CRJHL started its sea­son on Oct. 12.

MIKAELA MACKEN­ZIE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Peguis First Na­tion Chief Glenn Hud­son, along­side ju­nior hockey play­ers, speaks to me­dia at True North Square Fri­day. Ear­lier this week, he helped launch a law­suit against the newly formed Cap­i­tal Re­gion Ju­nior Hockey League.

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