Icedogs change leagues

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The Slave Lake Icedogs Junior ‘A’ hockey team appears on track to launch its inaugural season in the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA) this fall.

But unlike the league’s first season, the WPHA won’t be a branch of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL). That became official last Thursday, with the announcement that the WPHA will now be part of a Toronto-based organization.

“The WPHA is proud to announce it has agreed to terms with the Greater Metro Junior Hockey League (GMHL),” says a joint news release from the two organizations.

Why did this happen? Apparently what sparked the divorce was a dispute between the WPHA and its parent league over the franchise in Hinton.

There’s probably more to it, but as far as we’ve been able to determine, it goes like this:

  1. The Hinton Wildcats, after their first season, owe money to the Town of Hinton. The town got fed up and terminated the agreement between the parties.
  2. While this was happening (i.e. just in the past few weeks), the WSHL announced it was putting another team in Hinton, called the Timberwolves.
  3. The WPHA filed a court action on June 3 “protecting its lease in Hinton,” said Derek Prue of the WPHA in a story by Edward Moore in the Edson Leader.

So, Hinton no longer recognizes the Wildcats, and is open to other offers. Meanwhile, a social media campaign is afoot to support the Wildcats and resist attempts by “a U.S. organization” to “take over Jr. ‘A’ hockey in Hinton.”

The Town of Hinton says it isn’t getting involved in any dispute between leagues. It is looking after the best interests of its residents and “moving forward with other opportunities..” – as quoted in the Edson Leader story.

A big question last week (before Thursday’s announcement) was what implications this might have for the Icedogs. The Leader (this one) reached out to Prue for answers. He said, for starters, that there will “certainly be Jr. ‘A’ hockey” in Slave Lake for the 2019-2020 season. As for the league situation….

Prue confirmed the court action in the Hinton affair. He said he couldn’t say much about it, but followed up with this:

“Unfortunately, the WSHL is attempting to take over some of the locations where the WPHA negotiated leases and operated in last season. Ultimately, we are confident that they will be unsuccessful. Either way the WPHA will be moving forward without the WSHL which will have several benefits to the teams and the players. The four WPHA teams paid the WSHL a total of over $310,000US last year in various fees and dues. Not having to pay these fees, while still being able to provide the same calibre and excitement, and player opportunities (showcase and scholarships), makes for a better business model overall.

The Enoch Cree Nation was recently added as a WPHA market location, and there will be other very exciting news from the WPHA later this week which will cause a buzz around the hockey world!”

Becoming part of the GMHL was presumably the big news.

Like the WSHL, the GMHL operates outside of Hockey Canada, not being a member of that organization. The independence that grants was pitched as an advantage by WSHL Commissioner Ron White when he visited Slave Lake last winter. For one thing, he said it allows teams to have more import players, which raises the calibre of the game.

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