The fledgling union for major junior hockey players finally has a face -- along with some famous fists.
Former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque has been named the executive director of the Canadian Hockey League Players Association, which is ramping up its certification efforts this week to represent over 1,300 players -- the majority of them teenagers -- in the OHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League.
The 35-year-old Laraque, named deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada two years ago, is preparing to lead an organization intent on fighting for better education packages for players while targeting a cut of the massive profits from Hockey Canada events like the world junior tournament.
"I wouldn't say there was one particular straw that broke to lead us where we are now," CHLPA spokesman Derek Clarke said, "but the money that Hockey Canada received from the world junior last January in Alberta (more than $22 million) was obviously one of the more egregious ones.
"That's a tournament played with CHL talent and the $6 million that did go back into the league went to the owners, not the players.
"That's not right and and we want to see that changed."
The group aims to end restrictions to the CHL's scholarship program, which dictates post-secondary packages must be triggered within 18 months of players exiting the league, and free the shackles of those who want to test their professional options without fear of losing their academic money.
"The CHL talks about how many players it sends to the NHL and that's fine," Clarke said "But it's really only a small number that make it and sign the million-dollar contracts. A majority of them won't go on and what about that other 98%?
"Our mission it to protect those players."
The CHLPA sees itself as a potential caretaker for that fund through a three-pronged approach: allowing players to utilize their education package as it stands, but minus the hurdles, assisting those who would like to play overseas and setting up seed money for individuals interested in starting a business.
"This is a diverse group of people," Clarke said, "and we want to be able to assist them with expenses to pursue their life-long passion while allowing them time to see if their dream of playing hockey is acceptable.
"We don't want to see them sign a one-year contract, get hurt or let go, and that's the end of their education money. And if university and the college is not his route and a player wants to be, say, a welder, they should be helped with that, too."
And where would the money come from?
Clarke proposes a collective bargaining agreement that would see a 50-50 split with the CHL of the world junior profits and a $1.50 surcharge on tickets for special events in which major junior players appear.
"I don't know anyone, for the price of a Tim Hortons coffee, wouldn't mind paying it if they knew the money went to these players," he said. "If you consider 1,500 players in the league, each would achieve a $12,000 education package. Thirty or so players realize the dream of playing in the world juniors, other players benefit, and what's wrong with that?"
Clarke claims they're not attempting to strong-arm CHL president David Branch or target any of the member teams. The league has reserved comment on the new group.
"We're not trying to dig into the owners' pockets," Clarke said, "and we're not trying to force a meeting with the league. David Branch seems like a smart, reasonable person and we want him and the other two comissioners to see this as something that would be a good thing for their league."
Former London Knights goalie Gene Chiarello, now a lawyer at Cohen Highley in London, is willing to lend his expertise to help the players unite. He once interviewed for the job of OHL recruitment officer, who oversees the education packages.
"I think it's fair, it's just," he said. "The CHL is big business, it's a different landscape, and these kids still give up their NCAA eligibility for $50 a week. They should be properly renumerated. It's a 12-month a year job now, and the CHL's biggest assets is its players.
"Without them, there's nothing."
Current Knights goalie Kevin Bailie said last season in Oshawa, he joked with then-Generals coach Gary Agnew about players' rights after a particularly rough day. This week is the first time he's heard talk of an actual movement.
"We had just been killed in a game and we came back and skated hard and watched a lot of video," the veteran puckstopper recalled, "and I knew the NHL had a rule about how much time a player is required to spend at the rink, so to lighten the room, I said (in jest) to Gary I'm going to start a union."
One day soon, it might no longer be a laughing matter.
Here's a list of the many hats worn by former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque, who heads up the fledgling Canadian Hockey League players association.
* Confirmed as the executive director of the upstart Canadian Hockey League players association Tuesday
* Green Party of Canada deputy leader for the past two years
* Sports analyst for TVA, the French-language TV station, who worked on-air during the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan this past May
* Author of 'The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy' published last year
* Owner of Crudessence raw vegan restaurants