The KIJHL’s Kamloops Storm players celebrate on the ice at West Fraser Centre after a goal during one of their games in Quesnel in December 2017. Efforts to bring a KIJHL team to Quesnel stalled in 2018 after the league’s executive voted 16-3 against expansion. (Tracey Roberts Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

The KIJHL’s Kamloops Storm players celebrate on the ice at West Fraser Centre after a goal during one of their games in Quesnel in December 2017. Efforts to bring a KIJHL team to Quesnel stalled in 2018 after the league’s executive voted 16-3 against expansion. (Tracey Roberts Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

Kangaroos fighting GMHL junior expansion into Quesnel

The Senior AA team sent a letter asking council to not support the non-sanctioned league’s efforts

The Quesnel Kangaroos are fighting against a Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL) team coming to Quesnel.

The senior AA hockey team sent a letter to Quesnel city council members, campaigning against the league.

The GMHL brands itself as a “tier 2” junior A hockey league, operating outside of Hockey Canada. The league has existed since 2007, with teams mostly in Ontario. They established a four-team Alberta division last year.

An executive with the GMHL, Derek Prue, presented to the North Cariboo Joint Planning Committee during their Jan. 12 meeting. He said the league was hoping to add three or four B.C. teams to round out a western division, including Quesnel and Williams Lake.

“This is a pay-to-play league with a dark history of taking advantage of players and families with hope and excitement for their children’s playing opportunities,” the Kangaroos letter reads. “The required fee for playing in this league is roughly $8,000 to $10,000 per season and there is a disturbing track record of parents paying for their child to play, to only have them cut from the team almost immediately and receive no refund.”

Prue said in an interview after his presentation the GMHL tries to follow an academy model, noting more leagues are moving to player fees to offset rising costs.

READ MORE: Junior league eyes Quesnel for expansion

“You don’t have many leagues that aren’t [pay-to-play] now,” he said. “We’re pretty proud of the return the players are getting.”

Prue acknowledged the GMHL has a bad reputation from their early days in eastern Canada, adding the league “bit off more than they could chew” with aggressive expansion in Ontario. There are dozens of now-defunct GMHL teams.

“We’re part of the GMHL, but our business model is different,” Prue said. “[The East Division’s] business model, they’re not even based on fans. My full-time job is to make sure teams are up and running and successful … We need to know our teams are there for the long term.”

The Kangaroos letter said the GMHL operating outside of Hockey Canada allows them to brand themselves as Junior A, despite not providing a Junior B level of competition.

Of the 889 players on the GMHL’s “player development” page on their website, seven have moved on to Division One in the NCAA. Ten players have gone onto play in Canadian Universities since 2016, and three players have moved to major junior leagues in Canada in the same time period. Most GMHL players who move to higher levels play in Division Three of the NCAA.

“Some of our 16/17 year olds play one year with us, and move onto the BCHL — to us, that’s a win,” Prue said. “If they go there, get a NCAA Division One scholarship, then we’ve done our job. We’re not trying to compete head to head [with other junior A leagues].”

Quesnel city councillor Scott Elliott, who responded with excitement to Prue’s initial presentation, confirmed he would now vote against the league.

“In my ignorance I didn’t know you could just name a league ‘junior A’ when it clearly isn’t that calibre, or has the protections and support of B.C. Hockey or Hockey Canada,” he wrote in response to the letter. “It is my personal opinion that this initiative would not be a good fit for our community.”

The Kangaroos and GMHL disagree on a key point.

“According to the bylaws of Hockey Canada, any player, coach, or referee that participates in, or signs contracts with an unsanctioned league cannot participate in any Hockey Canada event or league for the duration of one full season of play,” the letter reads. “Which would not contribute to the growth or improvement of sports in Quesnel.”

Prue said that isn’t the reality in Alberta.

“Most of our refs are still reffing Hockey Canada, it’s not like you have to choose one or the other,” Prue said. “High level refs, Hockey Canada isn’t going to give them the boot … We have good crews we keep busy every Friday and Saturday.”

In his presentation, Prue asked the committee for perks the Kangaroos do not get. He said the league would pay minor hockey rates for games, and expect cheaper practise fees. They also require access to liquor sale money for games.

Quesnel has been without a junior hockey team since the BCHL’s Quesnel Millionaires left in 2011. The Kangaroos agreement with the city of Quesnel is a year to year one without access to liquor sale money.

“In the event that a Jr. Hockey team is established in Quesnel it is understood that a new agreement will need to be negotiated for the 2020/2021 season, specifically with regard to the use of the team dressing room and advertising rights,” the agreement reads. “It is understood that in the event that a junior hockey team is established in Quesnel that the junior team would have priority use of the team dressing room.”

Quesnel was denied an expansion franchise in the KIJHL in 2017 and 2018. Kangaroos president Tyler Coleman said if a sanctioned junior B team was planning on coming to Quesnel, the Kangaroos would be much more supportive.

Even Prue was confused Quesnel doesn’t have a junior hockey team already.

“That’s a mystery to me,” Prue said. “It goes to show, and the BCHL is kind of the same, they’re more concentrated on that southern footprint and once you get to Quesnel they see it as way out of the way.”

The North Cariboo Joint Planning Committee will receive a report on a potential GMHL team at their next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

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