Building sand castles in the ice

I’m sure no fans were in an uproar over what took so long for the Superior International Junior Hockey League to announce its playoff format.
But the behind-the-scenes story about the league’s push to have one of its teams compete for the Royal Bank Cup is just another example of how tough it is to be the new kid on the block.
Let’s look at this using simple kindergarten analogy. In no way am I disrespecting the situation, I just think this would be easier for people to understand (including myself).
The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey Association (let’s call it “Billy”) and the south’s Ontario Provincial Junior ‘A’ Hockey League (“Tommy”) have competed for the Central Canada Junior championship, or Dudley Hewitt Cup (“sandbox”)—with the winner going to the nationals, or Royal Bank Cup (“bigger sandbox”).
Then the SIJHL (“Johnny”) comes to town and wants a piece of the action, citing they deserve the right to be there based on the region’s tradition for producing strong hockey players and because they’re working on making a name for themselves.
Now the Canadian Hockey As-sociation (“teacher”) likes how Johnny aggressively showed interest to play and how efficient he was in doing the right things to get there. As such, teacher awards Johnny his own spot in the sandbox—and that’s when problems arise.
You see, Tommy underestimates how quickly Johnny got his act together and continues to make play dates with Billy as if things were normal—until teacher tells them all three must share the sandbox.
After discussing things with Billy, Tommy decides he’s going to sit out the next few recesses while Billy will play with Johnny in the sandbox.
In the end, Johnny is happy, Billy is content, but Tommy is left out in the cold. Teacher is teacher but he/she may have a few more gray hairs.
I hope that’s clear. The big question I got from all this is: how much dues does a new hockey league need to pay before it’s considered equal to its more established peers?
“[The SIJHL] is not wrong in what they wanted. But the problem is that you just can’t jump in,” said OPJHL chairman of the board Charlie Macoun.
“A big cross-section of Ontario will not be represented [at the provincials] and that’s unfortunate.”
“There’s no backlash or hard feelings,” NOJHA commissioner Julio Navarro said. “But we feel there should have been a qualifying year for them.”
But those in the SIJHL argue there’s no forum like head-to-head competition to prove themselves.
“We deserve it. You don’t start a junior ‘A’ league and don’t try to legitimize it by competing at that level,” said Feathermen Hawks head coach Todd Howarth. “From the get-go, we’re telling the kids, ‘Look, first year or not, let’s go after that cup.’”
“It’s a great thing,” agreed Bor-derland Thunder president Shawn Jourdain. “How else do you sell a league or get players to come to your city? The Royal Bank Cup is highly-scouted by colleges and that’s the main goal for our players.
“It’s very important to compete in this first year,” he stressed.
I believe the SIJHL should have paid its dues and given respect to its older counterparts—even if that meant not taking a run at the nationals this spring.
There are still other ways for this fledging league to create visibility for itself. The upcoming all-star game here next Tuesday night (Feb. 5) against the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League is a good example.
Don’t get me wrong, the SIJHL has done an excellent job getting its product out to its communities—especially Fort Frances and Dryden—but a part of me hopes they’re not getting too big for their britches.
After all, SIJHL president Jerry Blazino said this season is year one of a three-year plan before this league knows exactly where it stands among its peers.
• • •
Despite going three-for-six, my two-week run as Rainy River District’s “self-glossed” NFL playoff prognosticator is over. The New England Patriots played another great game to prove me wrong—again.
I was down on the Pats entering the playoffs because I thought quarterback Tom Brady was an unproven talent. So to have regular starter Drew Bledsoe come back and help them beat the Steelers is, in a phrase, painfully ironic.
So I admit failure. I am not the gridiron expert I thought I was. On to bigger and better things. Any takers on the upcoming Olympic luge event next month?
Frankly I like Sweden’s chances to take the gold and here’s why: oh, never mind.
• • •
Former Fort Frances resident Keith “Huffer” Christiansen recently was named to the top 50 Western Collegiate Hockey Association players of the past 50 years list.
A dual citizen, Christiansen played college hockey for the University of Minnesota-Duluth between 1963-67. He also captained the U.S. Olympic hockey team to a silver medal in 1972.
A former NCAA All-American and league MVP, Christiansen is the only UMD athlete to have his jersey retired. (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal)
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