Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League Inc.
League Formation and early years
In the spring of 1970 the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was approached by a group of individuals interested in forming a Junior Hockey League as an alternative to the then only Winnipeg area Junior Hockey, The Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The initial reception from the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was positive and it was suggested that they would welcome such an application for membership.
With this in mind, letters were sent out to a number of individuals and community groups, in and around Winnipeg, advising of the idea and inviting those interested to attend a meeting to discuss the possible formation of a league. The meeting took place and resulted in the formation of a league, with representation from teams based out of Fort Garry, Charleswood, River Heights and Stonewall. Several meetings were held and it was agreed that the league would commence operation that fall.
Following up on the initial contact with the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association, our new league formally applied for certification as the “Manitoba Junior ¡B¢ Hockey League”. The Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association President, Frank McKinnon, Asked for a meeting with our group, at which our application would be discussed. This was held in the Winnipeg Arena, then the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association¢s home, and we were informed that we would be welcome as MAHA/CAHA members BUT that there was a “problem” to work out. It seemed that the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association had received formal applications from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Winnipeg based teams, for Junior “B” franchises to commence that fall, and as their application “pre-dated” ours we would have to work something out with them – Manitoba Junior Hockey League – before the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association could accept us.
Subsequent meetings were held with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and it was pointed out that they were interested in having but one Junior “B” team in each of their four Winnipeg zones, and that they would want some say into what players we carried and that such players would have the “advantage “ of being able to move up and play games, from time to time, with their junior “A: teams. Further, it was pointed out that we had proposed three teams in South Winnipeg – the zone of the Winnipeg Monarchs Junior “A” Team – and that they could not agree to that. They pointed out that there were barely enough players from that zone to stock one Junior Team, let alone four.
It quickly became evident to us that they were looking to us to run – at our expense- a development league of farm teams for their Junior “A” Teams. We lost interest in dealing further with them, and went back to the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association advising that we had met with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League as requested, but were unable to conclude an agreement with them. We pointed out that we still were looking for their blessing, and sanction as a Junior “B” League.
They had two additional groups at that meeting, a group from Portage La Prairie who operated the Portage Terriers Junior “B” Team, and a group from St. James Represented by Bob Stewart and Don MacKenzie, looking to field a Junior “B” team that year.
We again explained to the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association that we wanted to offer a place for boys to play Junior Hockey where they wanted to not where someone told them they had to play. We told them we could not work with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and would not recognize their “protected list” of players. We told them they could have all the protected players they wanted, at the Junior ”A” level, but that their putting a boy¢s name on a “ protected list” should not restrict his playing for the team of HIS CHOICE at the Junior “B” level.
The Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association then suggested that we should not consider operation without their formal sanction and we replied that while we would like their “stamp of approval”, the four founding teams had arranged for arenas to operate out of and ordered their equipment and were going to play with or without their blessing.
It was suggested that if we did so, we would forfeit any draft revenue- then paid to developing teams, for all players drafted – not just the team the player was drafted from- if we were not Canadian Amateur Hockey Association registered.
We replied that the draft monies – if any- would be nice, but that our main purpose in forming the teams and league, was to provide a place for boys to play hockey, not to develop players for the draft funds the teams might receive.
With that the meeting concluded. The Amateur Hockey Association President, Frank McKinnon quietly asked us to give him a chance to see if there was anything he could do to sort things out, before we proceeded. He was subsequently contacted at his office in Carman, Manitoba in late August of that summer, and he advised that he had been unable to change anything.
Portage and St. James were advised that the four founding teams were proceeding to draw up a schedule to start play in October, and asked if they wanted to be included. They said no, as they had been assured by the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association that an alternate league would be available for them to play in.
The four founding teams started play with a schedule of twenty-four games each. After a week of league play. St. James and Portage approached advising that it was apparent to them that the alternate league play suggested by the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was not going to materialize, and would we consider allowing them to join our league. A meeting was held which approved same and the schedule altered accordingly.
At about the same time, a group from Neepawa contacted the league regarding the possibility of our teams playing their Junior “B” team. They had a team and no one to play, other than area Intermediate Teams. A committee was struck who met with the Neepawa group in Portage La Prairie to see what arrangements could be made.
The Neepawa group was advised of that one of the points the league founders had in mind was to provide a league with little or no traveling. We realized that the majority of the league¢s players would be students, and we did not want to have them play games where they would not get home until late at night, having to get to classes the next morning,
The Neepawa group said that they were simply looking for games for their boys to play against other Junior “B” level teams and would we consider playing them in their rink on weekends? In the end, a deal was struck that saw each of our teams travel to Neepawa twice that winter, on a Friday or Saturday night to play one game. Neepawa would pay the cost of a charter bus for each trip and the games would count for points in our league standings, thus making sure our teams would take the games seriously and ice a full team. The Neepawa Exhibition season proved successful from our league¢s point of view, but cost prohibited its continuing past that season.
Over the winter, the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association continued to contact us, asking if we could put our players on Canadian Amateur Hockey Association Cards and in turn select one of our teams to enter into the Manitoba Amateur Hockey association play-offs. They had a Rural Champion and wanted a city team to play-off against. This was done (players signed to CAHA cards) and Charleswood was selected to represent the league in the MAHA play downs. At the last moment the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association ruled Charleswood ineligible and sent the St. James team.
Year two saw a stronger, more experienced group of individuals and additional interest from several areas. Over that year and the next five years, three of the four founding teams flourished (Stonewall ceased to operate after two seasons) and teams were added from St. Boniface, North Kildonan, Selkirk, Transcona, West Kildonan, North Winnipeg, Ste. Anne and exhibition home game series (similar to the first year¢s Neepawa experiment) entered into for two years, with Kenora Ontario.
In the early years of the league, before the formation of the tier hockey system we know today, the only operation involving the group of young players into “All=Star” teams for league play, was the Manitoba Minor Hockey Association, also in “ Independent”, non CAHA registered, league. It developed players up to age fifteen and pressure was placed on many of our Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League teams to accept boy¢s age fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. Year one of league operation saw each of the south Winnipeg teams carry one fifteen year old, Brian Engbloom on Fort Garry, Ray Russell on Charleswood and Don Houston on River Heights.
In an attempt to provide a place for boys of this age to play Junior Hockey, and to restrict the positions on regular teams to players age eighteen and over, Nick Hill formed a team of boys drawn from all over Winnipeg, age seventeen and under. The team known as the “Kern-Hill Nationals”, competed VERY WELL for several seasons. What Nick¢s players gave up in age they more than made up in skating and youthful enthusiasm. The “Franchise” still exists today on the leagues books, Nick simply having suspended play, feeling the void is now being handled by the “AAA” program.
During that first six years, the league grew to the point where a part time statistician was hired - Fred Collins, the night sports editor of the Winnipeg Tribune – and subsequently when Fred moved from Winnipeg, the position of Secretary/Manager was created and filled initially by Gerry Probert. Other executive positions changed with Earl Ormshaw graduating from a referee in the first few years, to Referee-in-chief, replacing Bob Foulds who had held that position since inception.
Nick Hill proposed that the league hold an annual Fund Raising dinner, with teams benefiting from the profit, and it has continued to be one of the successful co-operative ventures involving all league teams, that contributed to make the league strong. This co=operation between teams was evident in the first year, and continues today in all areas of league development. The Teams and the people who ran them are not in it for the benefit of just their own team and what they can get for themselves, rather they take a look at the overall benefit to the league when making decisions.
After two years of operation, with an apparent impasse between the league and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association, it was suggested that we adopt the eligibility rules of the Western Canadian Junior Major Junior League – each team being allowed to carry four one year of age over the official age limit for Canadian Amateur Hockey. This change was adopted and the words “Major Junior” added to the league¢s name, in place of “Junior ¡B¢”. Muzz MacPherson, then Charleswood¢s coach, should be credit with addition to the league¢s development.
The Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association continued to seek an agreement with the league that would see its joining that body, however in spite of verbal assurances that they “should never stand in the way of any boy playing hockey”. When the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League asked for a signed legal agreement confirming that point, the right of any boy to play hockey in the MMJHL regardless of the fact that he might be on someone¢s “Protected or reserve list” or had signed with another team the previous season, it was rejected. One of the principals the league was founded on was the principal that a boy should have a say in what team he wanted to play on. This principal continues today and is one of the reasons for a strong league. With no CAHA cards to “restrict” the players to our teams, so to speak. It is just the fair treatment the players themselves receive, from the individuals running the teams, and the league, that bind them.
We must be doing something right!