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A league on ice? ECSHL to decide its future after Hockey Canada ruling

<p>In this Nov. 7, 2015 file photo, Northeast Eagles’ goaltender Mark Yetman gets ready to pounce on a loose puck before Kenny King of the CeeBee Stars can get his stick on it during Avalon East Senior Hockey League play in Harbour Grace. The Eagles host the first game of the 2016-17 AESHL season tonight at Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay, where a special opening ceremony will highlight the league’s 50-year history.</p>
In this Nov. 7, 2015 file photo, Northeast Eagles’ goaltender Mark Yetman gets ready to pounce on a loose puck before Kenny King of the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars can get his stick on it during an Avalon East Senior Hockey League (AESHL) game in Harbour Grace. In 2017, the CeeBees were left on the outside when the other AESHL teams folded the league and reformed as the East Coast Senior Hockey League (ECSHL). However, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador has said it will not grant the ECSHL membership unless it accepts the CeeBees' application to join the league. And now, Hockey Canada's appeals committee has ruled Hockey NL had the authority to do so. — SaltWire Network file photo

After national body says Hockey NL has right to insist the East Coast league add CeeBees, teams will determine whether they'll play this season

It remains to be seen how the East Coast Senior Hockey League will operate — or if it will even operate — this season. However, answers should be forthcoming later this week as the league’s member teams determine how they proceed after a Hockey Canada ruling that says the ECSHL must abide by Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador’s insistence it add the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars for the 2019-20 season.

The league’s resistance to Hockey NL’s directive with regard to the CeeBees may have been breached for good in the last couple of days with a ruling by Hockey Canada’s appeals committee that the provincial body had the right to force the ECSHL to take in the Harbour Grace -based club,

Last month, Hockey NL — through its senior council — indicated the provincial body would not sanction the ECSHL if the league did not accept the CeeBees’ application to join what is now a five-team circuit.

Non-sanctioning wouldn’t necessarily prevent the ECSHL from operating, but it would be as a “rogue” league, outside the umbrella of Hockey NL and Hockey Canada, and would specifically prevent ECSHL teams from competing for the Herder Memorial Trophy and provincial senior hockey championship.

There is a history of bad blood and mistrust between the ECSHL’s metro-based teams —the St. John’s Caps, Northeast Eagles, Conception Bay Blues and Southern Shore Breakers — and CeeBees, going back to the days when all were part of the Avalon East Senior Hockey League (AESHL).

Most of the friction stemmed from claims the CeeBees contravened league rules through the widespread use of paid players, leading to what some saw as a competitive imbalance. It went so far that in 2017, after the CeeBees had won the Avalon East and Herder titles, that the other AESHL teams scuttled the league and re-floated as a quartet under the East Coast Senior Hockey League banner.

The ECSHL grew to five teams last season with the addition of the Clarenville Caribous, but efforts by the CeeBees to find a place within the provincial senior hockey system went nowhere, even when Hockey NL directed a restructuring that saw the AESHL clubs play interlocking game against senior teams in Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander, all leading up to the Herder championship.

The CeeBees remained persistent, and re-applied to join the ECSHL this season, saying they had the necessary financial backing and fan support, as well as a tentative roster of players to operate out of the three-year-old Danny Cleary Community Centre in Harbour Grace. But after the ECSHL turned down the application in early September, the East Coast league was told its annual membership application to Hockey NL — which in the past, might have been considered a matter of form — would be rejected unless the CeeBees were brought on board.

The ECSHL then began the appeal process, one that proved lengthy enough to result in a delay to the scheduled start of the 2019-20 season.

The league is thought to have made a number of points in its appeal, but the main one was, that by denying the ECSHL membership and an attempting to force what might be described as a shotgun marriage, Hockey NL overstepped its authority.

However, Hockey Canada’s appeals committee did not concur, saying the decision was within the constitutional rights of Hockey NL, whose stated mandate was to grow the game within the province. In other words, if Hockey NL believed the ECSHL’s refusal to accept the CeeBees ran counter to that mandate and to the provincial association’s directions in that regard, then it had the right to deny membership to the senior league.

With the appeal process having reached its end, the ECSHL teams are left to decide individually or among themselves if they are willing to operate with the CeeBees as part of the league. It’s expected meetings with the CeeBees executive could be part of that process.

The ECSHL was supposed to have gotten underway last weekend. However, while waiting on the appeal ruling by Hockey Canada, that start-up date was moved forward to Nov. 8. Given what is happening, even that new date has to be seen as tentative.

Not only will senior hockey in the eastern part of the province will be affected by what happens this week, it will have ramifications right across Newfoundland.

The defending Herder champion Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander Flyers make up what is officially the Central West Senior Hockey League (CWSHL), but since a two-team league is not feasible, they depended on interlocking games with ECSHL clubs to fill out their schedules last season.

There has been some suggestion Clarenville, which had been a member of the Central-West before joining the ECSHL a year ago, could return to join Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander in a three-team partnership in the event the East Coast league did not play. However, Caribous general manager Ivan Hapgood recently told The Telegram his team has no interest in revisiting such an arrangement because the Cataracts and Flyers are operating under financial models (ie. paid players) different than than the one Caribous have since adopted.

That might mean the Cataracts and Flyers will be looking west instead of east. The West Coast Senior Hockey League, with three teams in its fold — the Corner Brook Royals, Deer Lake Red Wings and Port aux Basques Mariners — is set to begin play Nov. 22. The league was rated as a senior B circuit last season, and as such did not compete for the Herder. However, earlier this week, a league spokesman told The SaltWire Network the idea of the WCSHL being part of Herder playdowns was something that is being discussed.

Twitter: @telybrendan


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