Rainy River players banned from Minnesota minor hockey

The Rainy River Minor Hockey Association has been informed by the Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association that it no longer will be allowed to send players over there.
RRMHA president Don Gall said the MAHA sent him a “revised” copy of its District 16 Player Waiver Policy, completed in May, requesting all Canadian players receive a release from their associations in order to play for an American team.
Since then, Gall was in contact last week with John Bittner, executive director for District 16, who told him he was under the impression that Rainy River did not have a minor hockey program, thus paving the way for the MAHA to allow Canadian players to play hockey in Baudette.
But Bittner said because Rainy River does have a program, Canadians no longer will be allowed to play in Minnesota.
“We have some controversy over here with Canadians wanting to play over in the States,” Gall noted last week. “MAHA asked us to sign a waiver policy that says kids must play in their home town and the only way they can play over in the States is if they get a release.”
But Gall said he, and the RRMHA board, was not about to let the floodgates open and allow every player the chance to play across the border–even though they had received sharp criticism from parents in Rainy River.
Craig Slick, president of the Baudette minor hockey league, said as many as eight or nine players currently are on Baudette rosters. But Gall estimated he’s had requests from as many as 20 players from the Rainy River and Morson areas.
But with the information they received from the MAHA last week, Gall said there’s no way a player will have the chance to play in the States as long as there is a minor hockey program in Rainy River.
A fax received by Gall dated March 4, 1998 clearly states the MAHA’s policy.
“District 16 believes strongly in community-based programs. They are, and have been, the core of the Minnesota hockey tradition for over 100 years.
“In keeping with this tradition and the intent of the MAHA handbook, we have developed this waiver policy for the betterment of the district and to have guidelines whereby players who must move to another affiliate are able to do so or be denied the opportunity to do so based on the intent of the rules of MAHA and District 16,” it stated.
“This policy is not meant to be used to find ‘loopholes’ or ‘fudge’ a system to create either ‘all-star’ teams or to recruit players of great ability to help a program become better,” it added.
The MAHA also has a residency policy, which clearly states “Players are to participate on teams from the community of their parent(s) or legal guardian(s) residence.
“In some cases, a ‘natural hockey community’ exists, which may be a combination of nearby communities based on high school attendance or other demographics. However, this is not to allow all-star or recruited teams to be formed.”
Still, Slick said he contacted Bittner in June regarding this situation and was assured there would be no problem in re-waiving players this season.
Joe Ward, executive director of Thunder Bay Amateur Hockey Association, said once a player is released from an association under its branch they no longer would be associated under TBAHA.
He noted the TBAHA allows players from places such as Rainy River to try out and play for rep teams in Emo and Fort Frances, for example, barring they do not have their own “AA” rep team.
Regarding playing in the States, Ward said it is up to the association the player is requesting to play if it will accept that particular player.
In the past, a release form had to have been signed by the RRMHA hockey president, the Baudette minor hockey league president, and the MAHA president.
But Gall said Bittner told him that Baudette falsely had led the MAHA to believe Rainy River did not have a hockey program, thus swaying the MAHA to sign its portion of the release.
MAHA stressed it won’t be signing those releases any more, said Gall.
“They have told me that under no circumstances will they be signing any releases if the kids have a place to play in Rainy River,” he noted. “[MAHA] say they believe in maintaining a strong, community-based program.”
Bittner could not be reached for comment.
But Slick said in no way did he or anyone else in the Baudette program mislead Bittner into believing Rainy River did not have a minor hockey program.
“We’re trying to clear this mess up,” he said. “No, somewhere someone has taken something out of context. We’ve never interrogated or inquired about anyone coming over here [to play].
“They asked to come over.”
Slick also was irked that minor hockey has moved its attention from the play on the ice to the political arena.
“It’s nuts. It’s crazy” he charged. “My wife said the other day ‘This is crazy using nine, 10, [and] 11-year-old kids as pawns.”
Albert Beller, who has two sons playing for ‘AA’ teams in Baudette, argued they will be affected if they are forced to play ‘A’ hockey this season in Rainy River.
“They won’t face the same level of competition, they will be facing defencemen, on average, that will have less skill,” said Beller. “They would face players with a higher skill level at ‘AA.’
“It would make them work harder,” he noted.
Beller stressed players at the ‘AA’ level take the game “more seriously,” and that the structure of the teams are more concrete than at the house league level.
In a one-paragraph memo sent to the Times last Thursday morning, Beller argued against the MAHA’s definition of a “natural hockey community.”
“Baudette and Rainy River likely form a more natural community than any two towns in the USA,” he wrote. “Except for the highly regulated bodies of education and hockey, these communities share vast numbers of things.
“For example, Rainy River hosts the figure skating program and curling club while Baudette hosts the swim club, bowling league, and golf club.”
Beller’s, two sons, Jeremy and Greg, are joined in Baudette by Ryan McInerney, the son of Mike McInerney, a Canadian citizen who ironically is the coach of the Baudette “AA” Atom squad.
Baudette was scheduled to play its first exhibition game of the season last Saturday when they hosted the McDonald’s “AA” Atom team from Fort Frances. But none of the Rainy River players were cleared to play.
The two towns do share players for the high school hockey team–the Baudette Bears–which has had several Canadian players star for their program.
In fact, two Canadians were with the Bears last season, and head coach Doug Nosan said eight of his 33 players who have registered to try out for the team this season are Canadians.
“We have what’s called a co-op with Rainy River because they do not have a high school team and it allows them to play hockey,” said Nosan.
“Rainy River’s hockey program was excellent and then down the road it deteriorated so players have come over here,” he noted. “Our youth hockey accepted Rainy River players and with the co-op, these people in Rainy have another goal to play with our high school team and they have been accepted by our town.
“They’ve earned the right to play for our high school team,” Nosan said.