New rules, changes and rearrangements are on the way for the SJHL next season, following the league’s annual meeting earlier this month.
The meetings took place June 9-11 at the Jackfish Lodge near North Battleford and featured participants from all 12 of the league’s teams, as well as league executive staff.
SJHL training camps will start August 25 and the season will start almost a month later, with the first games of the 56-game slate taking place Sept. 22. The league’s annual showcase weekend will be moved to November 13-16 and will stay at the Legends Arena in Warman.
The schedule structure for the SJHL will stay the same as last season for this year - each team wil play six games against teams within their division and four games each against the other eight teams, along with an extra two games each against teams during the showcase.
Some changes will be coming for the league next season, both on- and off-ice. The most obvious change will be the use of cages for some players - working off an edict from Hockey Canada, all players in the league born in 2005 or later will now wear cages while playing in the SJHL and will do so going forward. Players born in 2003 or 2004 can play while wearing a visor if they choose.
Other junior A leagues, most notably those in Ontario, already play using full-face protection, either in the form of a cage or a full-face “fishbowl” visor. Players who earn commitments to NCAA Division I, Division III or ACHA college hockey programs in the U.S. wear full-face protection and have for decades.
The commissioner weighed his words carefully on the issue, saying that sport authorities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were against the move, but saying that cages can help protect players from injury.
“We had lots of discussions on this. Not every commissioner and not every branch is happy about the full-facemask implementation. At the national level with Hockey Canada, Hockey Alberta, Hockey Saskatchewan and Hockey Manitoba all opposed the implementation,” said McIntyre.
“I see it both ways. I see it both as someone who loves hockey and someone who played hockey - I have that perspective. I also have the perspective of a parent. This year, I was working with a family that sustained a dental injury two years ago. That injury, to remediate it, is about $22,000. When I looked at the insurance that Hockey Saskatchewan and the SJHL provides, it doesn't come close to half that cost. If you look at the cost of an errant puck or stick that causes some pretty major damage and surgeries for a kid just because he loves the game, there's that - but then you have the player perspective.”
McIntyre said the SJHL surveyed all players last season on whether they would prefer to move to wearing cages or would keep wearing visors while buying additional insurance - over 90 per cent of the players voted in favour of keeping visors.
“I’m hoping that someone is monitoring the data. I hope we see a decrease in head contact, in concussions and general injuries. If concussions are up or head injuries are up, then I think we have to look at that data critically and ask ourselves if it was truly the best decision.”
Two off-ice changes will also happen, with the league introducing an elements of effective franchise rubric and reinstating a rule that if an SJHL team is seeking to trade a Saskatchewan-born player out of province, that player would be listed on a league-wide waiver system before the league approves a deal, allowing any other team in the SJHL to take their rights instead of being dealt away.
McIntyre says the rubric will work as a checklist for teams to see what works in expanding a team’s on- and off-ice presence and where teams need to improve, similar to a report card in school. Before becoming the SJHL’s commissioner last year, McIntyre worked in school administration, where similar rubrics were common.
“Back in the day, when I worked in school division land, we did use lots of rubrics,” he said. “We used to have an element of effective schools, where we went in and evaluated a culture and climate of schools. What the elements of an effective franchise rubric identifies is all the key metrics and programming around a quality junior hockey franchise.”
That rubric won’t be graded against other teams or evaluated by the league - it’s meant more as an evaluative tool for each team or board individually.
“It talks about the number of season tickets that you sell, the number of sponsorship dollars that you sell, whether you have a fundraising project outside of your team that keeps things solvent, whether you keep tracking inventory at your team store, whether you have a billet coordinator or an educational coordinator, how many kids you're moving on to post-secondary opportunities in school or in hockey. It talks about all those things,” said McIntyre.
Other potential rule changes were suggested by the governors of different teams throughout the SJHL but didn’t pass a vote by the league’s board. Those ran the gamut from one team proposing to scrap the SJHL’s annual player draft to a team seeking payment from host teams or communities during long road trips, to another team seeking permission to play music during play during games, similar to professional basketball or lacrosse games. None of those changes received enough votes to pass.
Bomber fans will be pleased to hear that a long-rumoured league ban on loud noisemakers was not mentioned at the meeting nor passed by the league. McIntyre said rules on noisemakers, like those found so often at the Whitney Forum, would fall on local authorities, facility managers and teams to make, not on the league.
“I can, on the record, tell you that was not discussed at all at the AGM,” said McIntyre.
The commissioner said that high school athletics in Saskatchewan limit fans to using only human-made noise and that his hometown of Swift Current has restrictions on what noise can be made at WHL Broncos games through a city bylaw, cutting out air-powered noisemakers. In the end, he called for fans to be conscientious of others while at games, but said the league would not legislate against the presence of loud horns.
“We can’t have people crossing a line and jeopardizing people’s health at games, but I want people to have fun at the games too - there’s a balance," he said.