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Chaos in Ontario junior ranks finally settling down

A fight between the OHA's leadership and membership was drawn-out and divisive, but a new slate of board members might be the solution
Photo by Amy Deroche / OJHL Images

Photo by Amy Deroche / OJHL Images

A major rift in Ontario hockey looks to be entering a new phase as members of the Ontario Hockey Association voted in a new Board of Directors recently amidst a storm of controversy and the resignation of beleaguered president and CEO Karen Phibbs.

The OHA is a governing body that oversees Jr. A, Jr. B, Jr. C (basically most of junior hockey with the exception of major junior’s OHL) and the senior league in Ontario that vies for the Allan Cup. Members from all three junior leagues had become disenfranchised with the OHA’s leadership, which they believe was seizing too much power.

“They’re not at all transparent,” one team owner told me during the controversy. “We couldn’t even vote on the budget this year.”

Another contentious issue involved a dispute over fees in the Jr. B Greater Ontario League (GOJHL), which some clubs allegedly did not pay in 2017-18. Other franchises asked the OHA to intervene, but to no avail.

With many of the member clubs losing faith in the OHA’s executives, a Special Meeting was called (which is allowed under the Hockey Canada Act) to replace the board, but blocked on several occasions by the OHA – which instigated legal action against its own membership.

Members believed that the OHA was attempting to shut them out of the Governance committee, which had been created in June 2018. Members of that committee were elected by the teams.

In response to the memberships’ concerns, the OHA offered a counter-proposal to dissolve the entire Governance committee and have replacements selected by a recent chairman (who had been removed due to conflict of interest issues). Members believed the counter-proposal was an attempt to shut them out of the Governance committee.

Injunctions against the Special Meeting were rejected by the courts and finally, on Oct. 15, after months of back-and-forth, an election was held. Among those elected were Tom Strauch, Mike McCarron, Wayne Cowell, Abe Fehr and Terry Lynch, all of whom had been championed by the members in their original proposal.

The whole matter has been troubling for the Ontario Hockey Federation, which oversees the OHA.

“There’s no question we’re concerned,” said OHF president Phil McKee. “What impact does this have on the 2,400 players? That should be the primary focus.”

McKee noted that traditionally, in hockey, membership has voted on budgets, though it’s different in the corporate world and the hockey industry is evolving. Nonetheless, he was looking forward to the two sides resolving the matter themselves when I spoke to him before the new vote took place.

Now that the dust has settled, a restructuring committee has started to get working on what the OHA will look like moving forward. The bylaws, which one owner declared to be "antiquated and ambiguous," will be re-written, while the OHA itself will concentrate on governance and making sure Hockey Canada's bylaws are being followed – the leagues will run the leagues.

It's the beginning of a new era and all still involved are coming to grips with that sunnier reality.

"I just want to get back to developing hockey players," said one owner. "I'm glad it's over."

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