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Junior ‘A’ hockey may still be coming to Barrhead, but with a different league

Kevin Berger – Leader Staff Barrhead may be getting its own Junior ‘A’ hockey team, just not with the league that originally approached the town about a month ago about forming a team.

Kevin Berger – Leader Staff

Barrhead may be getting its own Junior ‘A’ hockey team, just not with the league that originally approached the town about a month ago about forming a team.

Last week, the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) announced that two new teams would be established in Barrhead and Cold Lake for the 2019-2020 season, which starts in mid-October.

Barrhead and Cold Lake will be part of a Provincial division that already consists of the Hinton Timberwolves, the Edson Aeros and the Meadow Lake Mustangs from western Saskatchewan.

The WSHL is a U.S.-based Tier II Junior ‘A’ hockey league founded originally in 1993. It started out with six teams but eventually expanded to 22 teams, not including Barrhead and Cold Lake.

Ron White, commissioner and president of the WSHL, said he was planning to appear before the Town of Barrhead council meeting being held tonight, July 9, so he can answer any questions they might have.

White indicated that he will also be present at an informal meeting in the lobby of the Barrhead Agrena on Wednesday, July 10, starting at 7 p.m.

This meeting, which is open to all members of the public, will be an opportunity for Barrhead residents to learn more about the league and potentially volunteer to serve in the various support roles needed to sustain a Junior ‘A’ hockey franchise.

That includes billets to house out-of-town players, volunteers who help sell tickets, equipment managers, sponsorships and so on.

While the league will hire coaches and assistant coaches, White noted that any local resident with sufficient skill could apply for those positions.

Hockey players who are between the ages of 18-20 and are interested in playing Junior ‘A’ hockey may also attend the meeting to learn about trying out.

“We want to get the word out to anybody and everybody,” White said.

The WSHL is unusual in that it has very loose restrictions on the number of international players that can play on any given team.

“We’re the most international league anywhere, other than probably the NHL,” White said, noting that the Edson squad alone had six or seven Swedish players on its roster this past season.

“A good 25 to 35 per cent of our players are from Europe, and they are extremely good players,” he added.

White noted this helps bring up the competition level and compensate for the lack of highly-skilled players in some communities, which leads to teams sometimes taking on players that “really aren’t going to get to play much” simply to fill out a bench.

When the 2019-2020 season actually starts, Barrhead will be playing other teams in its division. However, all four divisions within the WSHL take part in the league championship, which is named the Thorne Cup after the league’s founder Dr. Don Thorne.

In fact, the Edson Aeros travelled down to Ogden, Utah to take part in the 2019 Thorne Cup, which was won by the El Paso Rhinos.

White acknowledged that putting together a team for the 2019-2020 season will be a challenge, but the Barrhead team will be able to draw on the expertise of the rest of the league.

“There will be some aches and pains and hiccups, there’s no doubt about that. But last year … two of the teams really didn’t get off the ground (until late August) because of town ice agreements,” he noted.

WPHA deal is off

At a special meeting on July 5, Town of Barrhead councillors rescinded the three resolutions passed nearly a month ago concerning the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA).

Resolution 180-19 extended to the WPHA the excusive use of a single dressing room at the Agrena for the 2019-2020 season., while Resolution 181-19 provided the association with a special hourly rate for ice time between the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.

Finally, Resolution 182-19 directed administration to negotiate an advertisement revenue schedule with WPHA for the upcoming season.

All three resolutions were originally passed at the June 11 meeting, when chief administrative officer Ed LeBlanc first reported to council that he had been in talks with the WPHA about forming a local Junior ‘A’ team.

Originally, the offer was met with enthusiasm. An investigation by Barrhead Leader reporter Barry Kerton uncovered potential problems with the WPHA, however.

The Town of Hinton originally had its own agreement with the WPHA granting ice time to the league’s local team, the Hinton Wildcats.

However, the Town of Hinton posted to its Facebook page on June 5 that the Wildcats failed to pay the amounts required by the agreement.

“There is no longer any agreement between the town and the Wildcats,” the Facebook post read.

The town alluded to a ongoing dispute between the WPHA and the WSHL, of which the WPHA had been a subsidiary. However, as the town had no further relationship with the Wildcats, it would not comment on that ongoing dispute.

LeBlanc said the Town of Barrhead’s administration had done some research and determined not to pursue any further arrangement with the WPHA.