Dundas, Stoney Creek, Flamborough, Huskies frustrated by lack of action to save programs
Dec 27, 2017 by Craig Campbell
Dundas Star News
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A coalition of individual minor hockey associations from across Hamilton are working together — and separately — to try and convince the Ontario Minor Hockey Association to let them fix what they say are “archaic” boundary and residency rules that threaten the future of minor hockey in the city.
Dundas, Stoney Creek, and Flamborough associations, with support from the Hamilton Huskies, have each applied to change their member partner affiliation from the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) to Alliance Hockey. The Huskies, already an Alliance member, have also submitted a strategic alliance partnership agreement with Stoney Creek minor hockey, effective on the association’s move to the Alliance.
At its core, the effort by the four local associations is intended to improve access to minor hockey for kids across Hamilton. Currently, boys in Dundas cannot play competitive hockey in Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Flamborough, Westdale, or any other area of Hamilton, even if that means having to fold a team due to a lack of players. It’s the same for each association and has already forced cancellation of teams because associations are unable to bring in available kids to fill out a roster. Meanwhile, kids who want to play at a higher level often can’t — because that level may not be available in the association they are required to play in.
“The bureaucracy restricts the ability to move,” said Stoney Creek minor hockey president Steve Johnson.
Other minor sports in Hamilton — including girls hockey — do not have the same boundary and movement restrictions.
Representatives of the four associations say that’s led to some kids being forced to play house league, or leaving for nearby unsanctioned private minor hockey programs. In some cases, less qualified players are moved up to play rep so a team can exist.
“If you can stand and skate you can join a rep team in Dundas,” said Dave Ferris of the valley town’s minor hockey organization.
Already this season, Dundas has folded three representative, or competitive, teams. Stoney Creek also has teams that had to be cancelled. Flamborough would have had to fold a team — if volunteers from two organizations had not successfully worked out a one-time, Band-Aid solution.
“I needed assistance last year before we started building our teams,” said Dundas minor hockey president Kristina Dodd. “I didn’t get a response (from the OMHA). We needed help and we didn’t get it.”
The individual associations started talking about the boundary and movement issues in the fall of 2016. Flamborough, in the OMHA, was struggling to fill a Midget AA team and the Huskies, in the Alliance, had extra players.
Huskies general manager Mike Spadafora said the effort to move a few players, giving them a chance to play and saving the Flamborough team, took four people — representatives of the two oversight bodies and the two local associations — and more than 25 emails back-and-forth to finally get it done.
“People started talking,” Spadafora said.
Almost a year and a half ago, the Hamilton Hockey Forum was born. All the associations wanted to allow that kind of movement on a more regular basis, without the big struggle and bureaucratic roadblocks. But the individual associations all said they haven’t made any progress with the OMHA. They say their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears, so far.
A meeting has been set for Jan. 6, apparently including the OMHA, Alliance and local minor hockey associations, to discuss challenges facing local minor hockey.
In response to an emailed list of questions, OMHA executive director Ian Taylor issued a statement through a spokesperson.
“We have been actively meeting with all OMHA centres within the city of Hamilton to better understand the challenges they are facing,” Taylor said. “Through this process, we have been working in conjunction with Alliance Hockey, the Ontario Hockey Federation and the City of Hamilton in how we can best address these challenges collectively.”
But the local associations say their calls for changes have gone unanswered. Most are still waiting for any response to their various applications. They also don’t understand what took so long to set up the January meeting.
“We’re trying to ensure access to hockey,” said Flamborough minor hockey president Dr. Ed Finoro. He described existing OMHA boundary and residency rules in Hamilton as “a cave drawing” and in need of being updated to reflect the reality of the city and its minor hockey programs.
“It’s for the sake of the kids,” he said.
Spadafora said the new frustration is that once the associations started talking and finding solutions, they face roadblocks.
“The worst part is, when you try to make it better, you are not allowed. That’s where we are now,” he said.
The individual associations all want the boundary issues addressed before April 1, 2018, in time for mid-April tryouts for next season’s teams.