By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League season is under way, and while most observers and fans have a team they root for or follow closely, there’s one man in particular who doesn’t cheer for any one team – he is a supporter of them all.
Commissioner Kim Davis is hoping for another outstanding season of junior hockey in Manitoba (the 99th year of junior hockey in this province). He touched on a few topics recently, including the potential rise of some new teams, as well as where the focus of the MJHL is headed.
“In the early part of the season, it’s always very interesting from my point of view, as you never really know how it’s going to unfold,” said Davis. “This year in the early stages it’s been very exciting with some teams getting off to very good starts – and not all teams who characteristically do well.
“We have Neepawa and Virden who both got off to 3-0 starts, and they have not been at the top of the league for a number of years,” he explained. “But we’ve also had teams like Portage, Steinbach, and OCN get off to strong starts, and that all creates some great excitement in those communities.”
The commissioner also touched on recent moves at a league level to focus on younger players. That includes the prospect’s camp in the summer, the recruiting camp in North Dakota planned for next spring, and the gradual reduction of 20 year old players in the MJHL.
“This is a continuation of our focus to move the brand forward,” said Davis. “We want people to know this league is one where opportunities are available, in great number, for players who want to develop and move onto other leagues.”
He noted the prospect’s camp, which was first held this past July, included a lot of information to help new players and their parents understand what the MJHL can offer. And he also wanted to cast a wider net to try and attract more American-born players to Manitoba.
“There are good talented athletes in that country, and we want them to know there are opportunities for them up north,” said Davis.
He also added the reduction in 20-year-old players helps the MJHL broadcast that there is a real focus on helping showcase and develop younger players.
“It’s a minor adjustment at the high end of the league,” said Davis. “It’s a small change and won’t have an earth-shattering effect, but I think it helps communicate that our league is focused on being younger and providing great opportunities for younger players.”
Another new initiative is the MJHL-SJHL Showcase, scheduled for January in Regina, Sask. The top 60 players from both leagues will be split into three teams and face their provincial rivals in two contests expected to attract plenty of scouts from various leagues.
“The SJHL had the idea to have an additional event, and they reached out to us first,” said Davis. “We’re happy to do so and we think it’s a great showcase for both our leagues.”
The head of the MJHL also discussed the challenges teams face in running professional, competitive teams, adding the league is working hard to provide all 11 teams with the supports needed to be successful.
“There are always challenges annually,” said Davis. “The average budget is about $500,000, so it’s a fairly daunting task to operate a club at this level consistently. It is part of life in this league, and every league at this level,” he added. “But right now things are pretty solid. And teams know they have to keep their nose to the grindstone to build a solid business.
“And that’s what we are focus on here at the league office, to find ways to help them.”