On­tario ap­pears to back OHL

Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment let­ter sug­gests sup­port for league in wage dis­pute with play­ers

The Observer (Sarnia) - - SPORTS - KYLE CICERELLA

Com­mis­sioner David Branch is stand­ing firm in his be­lief that the play­ers in the On­tario Hockey League are there for the love of the game, and shouldn’t be get­ting paid for their ser­vices.

It ap­pears that the On­tario gov­ern­ment agrees.

Branch sent a let­ter to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment on Mon­day as an ef­fort to keep the league’s 425 play­ers un­der the ti­tle of am­a­teur ath­letes, and not al­low them to po­ten­tially be­come em­ploy­ees reg­u­lated by pro­vin­cial em­ploy­ment stan­dards leg­is­la­tion, like some peo­ple are try­ing to make hap­pen.

The gov­ern­ment re­sponded to Branch’s let­ter on Thurs­day, with Michael Ti­bollo, Min­is­ter of Tourism, Cul­ture and Sport, of­fer­ing sup­port.

“I want you to know, that our gov­ern­ment is be­hind you,” said Ti­bollo. “We are go­ing to do ev­ery­thing in our ca­pac­ity to grow and sup­port the On­tario Hockey League and ju­nior hockey across our prov­ince.

“I want to re­as­sure the OHL and the peo­ple of On­tario that we are ac­tively look­ing at pro­vid­ing this clar­ity to the OHL and we will have more to say in the com­ing weeks.”

Branch, who also serves as pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Hockey League, which the OHL is part of along with the West­ern Hockey League and Que­bec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League, has al­ways con­sid­ered ma­jor ju­nior play­ers — typ­i­cally rang­ing from 16 to 20 years old — as stu­dent ath­letes.

Play­ers are cur­rently el­i­gi­ble for post-sec­ondary school schol­ar­ships, with each sea­son spent in the league be­ing worth one year of tu­ition, books and com­pul­sory fees. Play­ers also get money for out-of­pocket ex­penses, equip­ment, bil­let­ing and travel costs while on a CHL ros­ter.

“To us it’s the best schol­ar­ship pro­gram in North Amer­ica, it’s the hall­mark of our player ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Branch.

“In ad­di­tion we have con­cus­sion man­age­ment, men­tal health pro­grams, we do drug ed­u­ca­tion and anti-dop­ing. We have taken a po­si­tion in what we be­lieve the right thing to do is — that’s to help de­velop our play­ers.”

But not ev­ery­one agrees with Branch that what the play­ers get in re­turn for their ser­vices is enough and that’s led to him hav­ing to fight to keep the league the way it is. In 2014 Toronto lawyer Ted Char­ney filed a $180-mil­lion law­suit against the CHL on be­half of all cur­rent and many for­mer play­ers for out­stand­ing wages, over­time pay, hol­i­day pay and va­ca­tion pay. Sam Berg, a for­mer Ni­a­gara IceDogs for­ward, and Daniel Pachis, a for­mer mem­ber of the Os­hawa Gen­er­als, were rec­og­nized as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive plain­tiffs against the OHL when the law­suit was cer­ti­fied in March 2017.

If the On­tario court sys­tem rules in favour of the play­ers, Branch says it could put some teams out of busi­ness while the pro­grams cur­rently be­ing of­fered would have to be re-eval­u­ated.

“If we were forced to pay min­i­mum wage then it would un­doubt­edly have an im­pact on the var­i­ous pro­grams we cur­rently pro­vide,” said Branch.

“The player ex­pe­ri­ence is a very sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment on our part.”

If play­ers were to be paid the $14 hourly min­i­mum wage in On­tario for a 40-hour work week over an eight-month sea­son, it would cost the OHL some­where in the range of

$8 mil­lion a year.

The let­ter ad­dressed to On­tario Premier Doug Ford and Ti­bollo, says that there were 321 OHL grad­u­ates us­ing their schol­ar­ship at a cost of

$3.125 mil­lion in 2017-18. This year, teams also spent $475,000 on schol­ar­ships for cur­rent play­ers.

It also said that “Our play­ers, to­gether with their par­ents and with the sup­port of player agents, en­ter and con­tinue to play in the OHL clearly un­der­stand­ing that they are par­tic­i­pat­ing in am­a­teur ath­let­ics.”

Player agent Al­lan Walsh voiced his dis­plea­sure with the let­ter on Twit­ter when he saw it.

“Why does the OHL feel they are au­tho­rized to speak on be­half of Player Agents? I’m per­fectly ca­pa­ble of speak­ing for my­self. Sev­eral agents (my­self in­cluded) feel Ma­jor Ju­nior play­ers are NOT am­a­teurs. This is just an at­tempt to avoid pay­ing play­ers min­i­mum wages.”

The OHL’s move came af­ter vir­tu­ally all other ju­ris­dic­tions in which CHL teams play have re­viewed this is­sue­an­dal­ready­passedex­emp­tions/ clar­i­fi­ca­tions,in­clud­ingQue­bec,New Brunswick, B.C, Saskatchewan, Nova Sco­tia, Man­i­toba and Prince Ed­ward Is­land, as well as Wash­ing­ton and Michi­gan.

“(The let­ter) is to work with the On­tario gov­ern­ment like we’ve done in seven other provinces across the coun­try, to con­firm what we al­ways be­lieve is the fact our play­ers our am­a­teur ath­letes, not em­ploy­ees,” Branch said.

“One of the great ques­tions is ‘when does the game start be­ing fun, when does it start be­com­ing purely a busi­ness?’ And I don’t know the an­swer for that, but I do know that when you look at the play­ers that have had great suc­cess they played the game be­cause they love it.”

Around the CHL

• Port­land for­ward Joachim Blich­feld is the CHL player of the week af­ter pro­duc­ing four goals and nine points in three games, all vic­to­ries to help his Win­ter­hawks move into sec­ond place in the WHL’s U.S. Divi­sion. The 20-year-old from Fred­erik­shavn, Den­mark has 35 points in 17 games to sit third in WHL scor­ing. He was se­lected by the San Jose Sharks in the sev­enth round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

• Joseph Raay­mak­ers of the Lon­don Knights earned the CHL goal­tender of the week hon­ours af­ter post­ing a .965 save per­cent­age in back-to-back wins, in­clud­ing a shutout vic­tory. The 20-year-old over­ager from Chatham, Ont., turned aside 55-of-56 com­bined shots to lead Lon­don into a first-place tie in

the Mid­west Divi­sion. Raay­mak­ers is play­ing in his fifth OHL sea­son and went un­drafted by NHL clubs.

•AsofWed­nes­day,thetop10teams in the CHL rank­ings are: 1. Prince Al­bert Raiders (16-1-0); 2. Ot­tawa 67’s (16-3-1); 3. Rouyn-No­randa Huskies (16-4-0); 4. Van­cou­ver Gi­ants(12-3-2);5.Monc­tonWild­cats (14-3-2); 6. Baie-Comeau Drakkar (14-4-1); 7. Hal­i­fax Moose­heads (134-1) ; 8. Sault Ste. Marie Grey­hounds (12-3-4) ; 9. Red Deer Rebels (11-41); 10. Drum­mondville Voltigeurs

(13-4-1)

AARON BELL/OHL

Daniel Pachis skates for the Os­hawa Gen­er­als in 2009. Pachis is one of two rep­re­sen­ta­tive plain­tiffs against the OHL in a law­suit against the league that was launched in March 2017.

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