Winter Hawks leaving Junior B, following Tomorrows Game
The Cambridge Winter Hawks are bidding adieu to Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
In the coming weeks, the Winter Hawks will be filing a letter of intent to join the Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2013-14 season. It’s a coming home of sorts for the Winter Hawks, as the team began as a tier II squad in the nine-team Ontario Junior Hockey League in 1982-83 before moving to the Midwestern Junior B Hockey League.
The move falls in line with the Ontario Hockey Association’s Tomorrow’s Game plan. While the plan – to split the junior hockey into a Premier League (junior A), Development 1 (junior B) and Development 2 (junior C and D) – has been slow to develop, teams have already been told to get their standard operating procedures (SOP) in place for the movement.
“Since Paul and I put our business plan in place, the goal was to move to that level,” said Winter Hawks president Joe Machado.
“We believe that we have already implemented the SOPs as far as our hockey club is concerned and have received very positive feedback from the OHA in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish.
“We feel that the Cambridge community is ready to watch hockey at a higher level. Our development model and our emphasis of creating opportunities for hockey players to obtain NCAA scholarships will be enhanced by playing at the Junior A level. It will be able to meet our goals in a much better way.”
Whether Tomorrow’s game will be in place by then – it was supposed to be fully implemented this past season – is a moot point, as the Winter Hawks plan on moving to set themselves up to play in the Premier League.
Once a letter of intent is received by the OHA, it has to be brought to the board of directors. Machado doesn’t envision any problems in moving to the junior A loop.
“We’ve had several meetings with the OHA over the last couple of years in terms of what we’re doing as far as our infrastructure is concerned, both in business operations and hockey operations,” he said.
“We’ve implemented the SOPs, our fan base has increased over the past couple of years and we’ve also been able to attract bigger players in terms of corporate partners.
“We’re ready and we can continue to grow, and compete at that level as a stable hockey organization.”
In past years, the junior A league has thought to have been watered down with too many teams, giving marginal players a chance to play junior hockey.
Now, teams are starting to decommission themselves or merge with other franchises to meet operating standards. At the end of this season, the Brampton Capitals, Huntsville Otters and Vaughan Vipers ceased operations. The league has trimmed 13 teams since 2009-10.
“It will be a stronger league,” Machado said.
“Obviously, only the top players will be able to play there. So the calibre of hockey on the ice is going to be more exciting and competitive. I think that will lend itself to more opportunities for players seeking to move on academically with scholarships, which has been a major part of our emphasis over the last three years.”
One of the benefits of moving to the OJHL is there is no import rule, so the team doesn’t have to limit the number of out-of-town players it can carry. The Winter Hawks have found themselves at their limit with imports the past couple of years which has made recruiting challenging at times.
Despite the ability to look for the best players available, Machado said there will still be strong local content on the ice.
“We believe that we have a great relationship with Cambridge minor hockey. A lot of good, talented young players graduated from Cambridge minor hockey and we’re proud to have quite a number of them on our team this year.
“We want to continue to strengthen that relationship with minor hockey so that we can continue to draw form there and have local players on our club.”
Moving to the OJHL would also stop that league from poaching the team’s best players, with only financial compensation necessary in exchange.
Machado said that looking beyond the move, he is hoping to bring a Junior D or Junior C team to town to play in the Junior B or Development 1 league – depending on when Tomorrow’s Game goes through – as a feeder team to the Winter Hawks.
How does the Cambridge Shamrocks sound?
“We’re currently exploring ideas about what that would look like,” he said.
“One of our options is…playing out of either Hespeler or the newly renovated Ice Park. At this point, we’re just exploring those options. We find that it would be a great opportunity for the hockey club to develop local players and to continue to develop players to play at the junior A level.
“Having a vertically integrated development model would be a great asset for the hockey club. We are exploring those options and hopefully we can make them materialize.”
Getting into the Hespeler Arena would mean jockeying with minor hockey to get ice time. Though the groups weren’t willing to accommodate senior hockey, they may agree to a junior B squad that would give local players an opportunity.
The Ice Park idea is what Machado calls in the “very infancy stages”. He wanted to talk to the new owners about either adding stands to the current renovations or building a third rink onto the property with stands.
That would take financial commitment on the Winter Hawks part, but Machado said he is trying to get a meeting with the owners to test waters with the idea.
“What that’s going to look like down the road is, at this point, would be speculation,” he said
“There’s no certainty as far as (a junior B team) concerned, but we are certainly putting a lot of emphasis on it because we think it’s a part of our development strategy.”
Courtesy of Bill Doucet at the Cambridge Times. See the original article here.