FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
GMHL West Division Executive Director, Dr. Derek Prue, took some time to answer questions about the league’s recent expansion into British Columbia, and to speak to the 18-year-old leagues exciting and unique business model.
Can you give us a brief overview of the GMHL and it’s West Division?
Sure! Over 18 seasons, the GMHL has grown from Ontario, into Quebec and now has established itself as a nation-wide league with a National Championship to be played each year. Over this time, we have graduated over 1000 players to every level of collegiate and professional hockey. Our full time, junior aged (16-21) players come from around the world to play in our academy style, full time programs. We strive to develop the complete player, both on and off the ice, and have this as our core belief along with inclusion, transparency, and responsibility.
As such, we have evolved to be a world leader in Indigenous hockey player development. Last season, most of our players were Indigenous, many coming from remote communities and leaving home for the first time. As well, many of our owners, managers, coaches and officials are Indigenous. We are one of the only leagues to operate a team in an Indigenous community, as is the case in the Enoch Cree First Nation, and we believe that we are the only high-level sports league to have a team named and known under its Native tongue, as is the case for the Kitimat saax (Haisla for Grizzly Bear).
Is the GMHL sanctioned?
Of course! Sanctioning means that a league has insurance to properly cover the players, a board and governing body, written Policy and Procedure Manual, and a certified rulebook. In addition to this, the GMHL has several fulltime league-specific employees, an executive committee, disciplinary process, and separate fulltime staff that are responsible to hire, train and promote its officials. Unlike some other sanctioning bodies, our rulebook is specific to our league and its elite players, and does not try to encapsulate rules for all players who may have a vast range of age, size and skill levels. Our insurance, is in fact, the same provider as that of Hockey Canada.
What about safety and player conduct?
This is another component that sets us apart; our commitment to the safety of our players, staff, and the community at large. All team staff, billets and those involved with our teams undergo a dedicated interview process, and must supply a criminal record AND vulnerable sector check. In addition, any and all complaints which may be received by any teams, division and league are taken very seriously and are subject to an immediate and transparent double-blind investigation. All of our players must sign binding codes of conduct before they can play which include drinking and drug use, social media parameters as well as several general codes of behavior and professional conduct. We are very proud that in over 18 years, there have been no major issues with the conduct of the players in our league.
Some people seem to believe that if you play, coach, or officiate in the GMHL, you are not allowed back into Hockey Canada, is this true?
Definitely not. Over the past 3 seasons in operation in Alberta and BC, we have shown in many cases that our players, coaches and officials can go back and forth between groups that are sanctioned in both Hockey Canada and non-Hockey Canada. We have even had players help officiate and coach in official capacities while playing on our league. As we all know, it is very hard to find and retain high level coaches and officials, and in some cases, teams shut down because a volunteer coach can not be found, and games cancelled because officials simply are not available. We made sure that this did not happen. Our players are on the ice with minor hockey in most of our markets, and our officials work our games and Hockey Canada games, often in the same weekend. In fact, in Canada, it is my understanding that our labour laws make it illegal to force people to choose between 2 sources of income available to them in the same profession. Of course we do not allow our players to play on one of our teams as well as a Hockey Canada sanctioned team, just as Hockey Canada would not let any player to be carded and play on 2 of its teams at the same time.
What is meant by “elite stream” hockey and why are sanctioned leagues and academies and the academy model becoming so popular?
Great question. Private, elite stream hockey that is sanctioned outside of Hockey Canada continues to grow exponentially. I believe that there are a few reasons for this. Hockey Canada has proven itself as an effective organization, but it is extremely large, powerful and bureaucratic. Recently, we have witnessed, sadly, that there have been decades-long transparency issues related to this bureaucracy. The Hockey Canada sanctioned methodology places many constraints on it’s elite players. Most teams are coached by a volunteer “hockey dad”, who, although makes the team operational, has likely has not played nor coached in an elite or professional capacity. It forces players to have to play in predetermined areas, regardless if another area needs players, or the local team has many returning elite players. Sometimes, the other area they are not allowed to play in is across the street! We are the only country that I know of that operates this way, and it is my opinion that this has contributed to our national teams not being the powerhouse they once were- other countries have been catching up!
Players and their parents are not free to choose the program they wish to go to. In general, Hockey Canada operates for the “masses”, which is great for entry and mid-level players wishing to learn and enjoy the game of hockey. Elite players, however, often suffer under this type of regime, in that they have less ice time, are coached by volunteers without a high level of knowledge of elite level hockey, and do not often have other off-ice development like nutrition, mental and emotional support and training, video analysis, etc. Elite stream academies and sanctioned organizations like ours are flourishing because we have paid, full time professionals who are responsible for the proper development of the players on and off the ice. Many people do not know that the WHL, OHL, and BCHL (who left last Hockey Canada recently), etc., are not part of Hockey Canada. You only need to look at the number of players drafted to the WHL and NHL and where they played, to understand how prevalent and successful non-Hockey Canada sanctioned leagues are for elite stream players.
Are there benefits to operating a Jr. A league outside Hockey Canada?
There are many. We have already spoken about the benefits of having a higher level of paid, full-time coaches and training staff, and the ability to attract players from a wider range of demographic. This includes our Indigenous players, as well as international players and 21-year-old players who need another year to develop in order to obtain a scholarship or turn pro. These players are restricted or not permitted to play under Hockey Canada sanctioned leagues. The Jr. A leagues sanctioned by Hockey Canada are notoriously slow to expand, with barely any more teams than existed 20 years ago! This means that there are hundreds of players wanting to advance past junior hockey that have been leaving to play in other areas, primarily the US- or not playing at all. We want to keep these players home and playing, and ensure that they move on. Other advantages are that we can operate in Indigenous, smaller and non-traditional markets, as well as intra-provincially.
We heard that players are responsible for a tuition to play in the GMHL, is that common?
Yes, it is. Teams in other leagues like the BCHL and AJHL, etc., also charge their players to play. In the GMHL, we try to keep the cost to what you would expect at the U18AA level. Of course, we offer a far more comprehensive development program, with daily on and off ice skill development, video analysis, nutrition, life skills, etc.
What is your personal opinion of the recent BC Hockey policy, which appears to place punitive restrictions and on players, officials, and coaches?
I think it is unfortunate that they would feel so threatened by organizations sanctioned outside of Hockey Canada. I believe people are smart and will educate themselves as to the development opportunities available to themselves and their children and act accordingly. As far as the officials, it will be interesting to see if they are actually denied games if they officiate in our league, as I believe this may well be against Canadian labour law.
Overall, I personally feel that there is an element of racism, as it may place unfair restrictions on the Indigenous management, officials, and most of all players who make up such a large part of the GMHL West Division. The average Indigenous player comes from a less urban environment than average non-Indigenous players, and often our program is their only option to play at the Jr. A level. As I said before, we are extremely proud that the majority of our players are Indigenous, and I feel that the punishment BC Hockey is attempting to place on our players and officials is damaging to our business as a whole, and may restrict the opportunities to our Indigenous athletes and officials. I feel that the policy appears to intend to direct our Indigenous officials and players, by way of unfair punishment, to organizations that have little to no Indigenous content, and that do not have specific programs which understand these individuals, their culture, and their development on and off the ice.
Giving opportunities to this group of people is core to our belief and business model, and we extend, as always, our friendship and willingness to work together, to all groups, including Hockey Canada.