Grassroots hockey gets boost from bigs

KEVIN HIRSCHFIELD, For QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:24 PM ET

When it comes to hockey in the province of Manitoba, there has been a great deal of success as of late.

The Winnipeg Thrashers became the second team from Manitoba to win the AAA Midget National Championship, the Telus Cup.

The MJHL has won back-to-back ANAVET Cups with the Portage Terriers winning most recently, in April.

The Winnipeg Monarchs and Winnipeg Hawks have been to the finals of the Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championship in consecutive years with the Monarchs winning in 2010.

"In many respects, the climate and the environment of hockey currently in Manitoba is very very good," said MJHL Commissioner Kim Davis. "And we've got a very strong cohort of players playing at the top levels that have come through the system in Manitoba."

And now with the return of an NHL team to Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba, it will only create bigger and better things.

You could say the rich are getting richer.

"I think it just puts hockey a little more in the spotlight," said Peter Woods, Executive Director of Hockey Manitoba. "I think it's valuable certainly for our programs and with it being a very positive league and the role models that are provided in the city, it puts hockey in the news and certainly creates a higher profile for our programs."

The loss of the Jets in 1996 also meant the loss of many role models in the city.

Role models that come with the new NHL team will potentially lead to more younger kids signing up to play hockey, Woods says.

"We had players the calibre of Teemu Selanne, that level, and Shane Doan, they contribute a great deal to the quality of life and community spirit," said Woods. "And when those people, whether they're hockey players or politicians or entertainers, somebody that's leaving the community and moving on somewhere else it does have a trickle down effect."

With NHL franchises struggling around the Southern United States for most of the past decade, talk of NHL returning to Winnipeg has been a hot button issue for years.

Local fans have been craving information, wondering when the time would finally come.

So know that big league hockey is back, the buzz is bound to be huge.

"What we want is people talking about hockey, "said Davis. "And not just talking about hockey, but investing in it by attending games and all the fallout that comes from it, both from a media perspective and hockey programs for developing players. That should all enhance and be even stronger that it is now."

The buzz will especially be big for Davis's loop, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Two players from the Winnipeg Blues were chosen in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and more players from the MJHL are starting to be ranked in Central Scouting.

That will only continue with the more eyes focused on the league.

"Players that play in our league have opportunities to advance their careers," said Davis. "I think that with a greater emphasis and notoriety on the top level of hockey in the world -- in our province, where we play -- it's only going to connect young players to the dream that's there and the aspiration that they can attain by developing through the system, towards those goals. "

"The more we can have people talking about those opportunities or players, the better it is for leagues like ours."


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