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Matt Molloy
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HNL interested in bringing junior hockey back to Central and Western Newfoundland

Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) wants to see more junior hockey in the province, and it’s taking the initial steps to make that happen.

As it stands, there’s only one junior hockey league in the province, the eight-team St. John’s Junior Hockey League.

The Central-West Junior Hockey League, which featured the Bishop’s Falls Express, used to operate in the province, but folded in 2013.

Now, HNL has made a call out to any interested parties living in Central Newfoundland who would be willing to organize and operate a junior hockey team — and even a league if it gets that far.

“We’re looking for somebody to lead the way and organize the league if we can get to that point,” said Gerry Taylor, chair of junior hockey with HNL. “We need someone to lead the way and organize and work with HNL in putting together a junior program.”

When asked if HNL was interested in getting a team in central, or forming a league in central, Taylor said it was a tough question to answer.

However, he likes the idea of forming a junior league in central and another in western. If that were to happen, it would create a lot of opportunities for junior hockey players across the province.

“I would like to see a team from different towns in central competing against each other. There was the Central-West Junior Hockey League that operated for a number of years, but that faltered the year before last and didn’t even operate last year,” said Taylor last week. “We’re really trying to bring junior hockey back to central and western. If the people organizing find it’s too expensive and it’s not to their liking to travel all the way west and down to Port Aux Basques for weekend games, maybe there’s enough players in the central towns to form a league that would have competition that’s in a close vicinity to each other.”

While in operation, members of the Express had to travel a lot while competing in the Central-West Junior Hockey League.

Taylor said the team would leave on a Friday afternoon to go all the way to Stephenville or Port Aux Basques to play two games, and come all the way back again. That took the entire weekend and cost a lot of money.

“Maybe they can’t afford that, and maybe that’s not what they want, I don’t know. What we’re interested in is getting junior hockey across the province,” said Taylor. “We’re interested in getting junior hockey operating in central and getting junior hockey operating on the west coast, and we already got a league on the east coast that’s doing well.”

If, for example, two four-team junior leagues were started in central and western, an option would be for the teams to compete in their own leagues, and the winners of each league could meet in the end to determine a provincial winner.

As good as that idea sounds, it would only work if people stepped forward to help make it happen.

“That’s what our aim is and that’s what our goal is, but we need a lot of help to make it happen,” said Taylor. “We can only make a suggestion on this end, and we need the people to participate and take an interest, and then we can go from there.”

The St. John’s Junior Hockey League is classified as a Junior B League, and the winner of that league goes on to compete in the Don Johnson Cup, which is for Junior B clubs in Atlantic Canada.

If HNL is successful in bringing junior hockey to places like central and western, an option would be to classify it as a Junior C league, and the winner of that league — like the winner of the St. John’s Junior Hockey League — will have the opportunity to compete for a major title off the island.

“Right now, and over the last number of years, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and the north has had this Maritime Junior C Hockey Championship going, and it’s worked really well,” said Taylor. “We contacted those guys — we’re in close contact with those guys all the time — and we got their approval that, if Newfoundland was interested, they could join into that and be part of that tournament.”

Whatever happens, regardless of travelling to the Maritime Junior C Hockey Championships or not, Taylor said brining junior hockey back to Central and Western Newfoundland would give young hockey players a chance to continue playing the sport after their minor hockey days are done.

“All you’re interested in is getting the players on the ice competing and enjoying themselves,” said Taylor. “Junior hockey is a lot of fun to watch, and it gives the players that came through minor hockey a chance to continue on and play a little more hockey before they become adults and move on to other things in life.”

The age to play junior hockey is18-20 and junior teams will be allowed six over-aged (21) players. However, over-age players must have been on a junior team for at least one season before being considered an over-age player.

For more information, email Taylor at gataylor@nl.rogers.com, or Central Director Lloyd Bursey at the.burseys@bellaliant.net.

matthew.molloy@advertisernl.ca

Twitter: @TiserSports

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