By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
By his own admission, the start of each Manitoba Junior Hockey League season is one of the favourite times of the year for Commissioner Kim Davis.
“The whole season is exciting, but the early part of the season is what I really like because I get a really good chance to see all the new teams – because they are new teams by and large, as well as the new players, the younger players that are just coming into the league.”
And with the season now well under way, Davis says things are fairly stable across the league.
“Overall it’s not in bad shape – nothing has transpired since the end of last year to make things any different,” he said. “The teams are full of optimism, and some teams have gotten off to good starts.”
It’s very interesting early on this year, as teams who have traditionally struggled to make the playoffs in recent years – teams such as Swan Valley, Waywayseecappo and Dauphin – have enjoyed some of their best starts in recent memory. And that’s led to plenty of parity and rejuvenated interested around the league.
“There are some different teams that are at the top at least at this point, and it remains to be seen whether that trend will continue, and the teams will sort that out for sure,” said Davis. “But I think all of them are still full of optimism.”
The MJHL is also continuing on their path to being a younger, more scholarship-attractive league. That means less 20-year-olds for each team moving forward.
“The expectation of that over the next two years the roster size reduced,” said Davis. “This year the number of 20-year-olds is at eight, next year it will be seven and then the next year it will be six where it will level off. It’s part of an ongoing play that’s going on across all junior A leagues.”
Coupled with the new rules on fighting (one fight and you’re out), today’s MJHL is a much faster and skilled league than it was even 10 years ago.
“We as a junior league were ahead of the curve in terms of responding to the number of fights that were happening in our games,” said Davis. “And it was for sure the right decision to make.
“I know there are people out there that don’t believe that, but as we’ve seen the highest league in the world, the NHL, has reduced the number of fights they have,” he added. “And it seems players just are not that interested in that part of the game. And we have a better game for it.”
Davis is also going to be busy for the next 18 months as he helps the Portage Terriers host the RBC Cup again. It’s a quick return of the national championship to Manitoba, but there is a reason Manitoba was the ideal play to host the 2020 RBC Cup.
“The national body approached me and asked if the MJHL would be interested in hosting the 2020 championship, because it will be the 50th anniversary of the national championship, and the first one was held in Manitoba in 1970,” said Davis. “So when I presented that concept to our board, they were very interested.
“And at the end of the day, Portage put in a formal bid,” he added.