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Thursday, June 20, 2024
Hockey petition aims to eliminate barriers for talented young players
NOTL hockey dad Sean Simpson in front of a picture of the NOTL B team his son played for two years ago. Simpson has started a petition that is calling to allow more NOTL players to make the jump to higher levels of minor hockey. RICHARD WRIGHT

A petition started in Niagara-on-the-Lake is calling for the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and various Niagara associations to give more developing players who reside outside of larger centres in the region the chance to play at the highest levels.

“Talented young athletes from smaller centres like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Thorold, Fort Erie, Port Colborne, Pelham and Welland are limited by their geographic boundaries,” states the petition, created by Sean Simpson, a NOTL pharmacist and hockey dad.

At the centre of the issue is the designation known as an “import player.” 

“If they don’t make AAA for Niagara North or Southern Tier, they’re forced to compete for only three available (import) spots per team on AA teams in larger centres like Niagara Falls or St. Catharines.” 

“This is not just unfair,” he added. “It’s detrimental to their development as players.”

While discussing the issue in further detail with The Lake Report at his Virgil pharmacy, Simpson said where it becomes a detriment is when young players who are good enough to play at the AA level are cut from teams simply because of the large talent pool across Niagara. 

In other words, a player may be good enough to play AA, but is left off a team because it already has its quota of three import players.

The only option for that player then is to play back in their home jurisdiction. 

NOTL is a B-centre community, meaning players from here — and those in their smaller home communities as well — that should be playing AA hockey but don’t make those teams are now playing A or B level hockey.

Simpson’s 12-year-old son is one of those NOTL players who made a AA team in St. Catharines last season.

“We had a great experience,” said Simpson. “The team was really competitive and he was with kids that were all, more or less, at the same level as him.”

He made the jump after his NOTL B team had a very successful season the year before.

A few other NOTL players from that team two years ago also made AA or AAA teams in Niagara Falls or St. Catharines last season — however, there were even more from NOTL who should have been selected, said Simpson.

“The problem again, getting back to the import rules, is there are three or four other kids who should have been playing higher level hockey and they couldn’t,” he said.

“You could see at tryouts that they are good enough — their skating is good, but there is just no spots for them,” he said.

“But some people will tell you — and I think in our case St. Catharines isn’t the same, but in Niagara Falls definitely — there were kids playing AA hockey that didn’t belong.”

Simpson’s petition is calling for partnerships among Niagara minor hockey jurisdictions.

The petition wants the region’s various hockey associations to come up with an agreement that gives “access to AA hockey in Niagara, bypassing the current restrictions imposed by the non-resident player system.”

“For the kids who love hockey and want to play, we need to give them the best set of circumstances for them to excel,” said Simpson. 

“And (at levels) where they are going to have the most fun.”

As of May 22, the petition had garnered 617 signatures. Its goal is to gather 1,000 names.

wright@niagaranow.com

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