New league won't include London Nationals

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:24 PM ET

If there is an Ontario Hockey Association new premier hockey league bringing together junior B and Tier 2 junior teams, the London Nationals will not be a part of it.

The OHA has had discussion over the past two years about establishing a higher profile league along the lines of the British Columbia Hockey League.

The OHA has set a Jan. 31 deadline for teams to apply to the new premier league.

Sarnia Legionnaires have already indicated they will apply for the new league as will the Waterloo Siskins. OHA president Brent Ladds said he has no official applications, but the target is a minimum 16 teams.

The Nationals like the concept of the league, but will not apply to play in the league's first year of operation.

"Our feeling on the deal is that it has lots of merit. It's something we're going to take a good look at but the period of time is just too short to make a decision," said Bill Eansor, who along with brother Ken, own the Nationals. "I just don't think we have time to put a business plan together."

The application must be accompanied with a $25,000 deposit. If a team is rejected, $24,000 will be returned.

The new league can draw applications from 36 provincial junior A clubs and 25 junior B teams. The OHA would like to begin operating in 2010.

The goal is to restructure Tier 2 junior and junior B into a league that gives junior players a continued opportunity to develop and be scouted, especially by universities.

"Right now, we don't get the kind of traffic in scouts we want and as a result we lose a lot of players to other leagues," said Nationals general manager Barry Martinelli. "Our junior B team is on the ice two days a week plus games. In this new league, you'd be on the ice four times a week plus games."

The OHL hopes the premier league could grow to as many as 24 teams after getting established. There will also be a restructuring of the junior C and D leagues.

"It's not just about the one level of hockey," Ladds said. "The whole Tomorrow's Game project as we call it is to get the association ready for tomorrow, to set standards, create manuals to operate teams at different levels. We're even looking at changing the categories from a premier, junior A, B, C and D to Premier, Development One and Development Two.

The other significant growth area for teams who play in the premier league is their budget. Most Western Conference teams in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League operate on a budget that runs from about $120,000 to $175,000.

"The budget is going to have to be increased significantly because of travel time," Bill Eansor said. "We were notified in late December. We did a quick read over of the application and to switch leagues, it's going to take a real good business plan. It's going to be a good league, no doubt about it but we don't have enough time.

Ken Eansor estimates a budget in this new league would run between $300,000 and $400,000.

Most hockey people believe that kind of budget would cut out any teams not privately owned.

That's the situation with the Strathroy Rockets of the GOJHL.

"We're not in the position of being able to apply for it," said Dan Gibson, Rockets' general manager. "As a community based team, we don't generate enough dollars to participate. We struggle every year to be able to balance our budget on a regular basis."

The question remains just how many other teams will be able to afford to make the jump.

"Right now, I don't have any applications but that will change. How many I don't know and until I have them, I won't speculate," Ladds said.

The OHA is already facing a disgruntled executive board of the OJHL.

The board was not pleased with the OHA having sent out application packages to teams without the OJHL having a chance to discuss the issue. In a memo to OHA members, the OJHL executive called for a plan that focuses on advancement of junior A hockey.


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