Should House League Players Have The Right 
To Choose Where They Play?

Rep players have had to deal with geographical restrictions forever. If a player wishes to transfer to a team in another jurisdiction, he is required to get a release from his home organization. In some cases, the home organization refuses to grant the release and parents have been forced to either move to another city or threaten legal action.

Now the question is being put to House League Associations, especially in small rural communities where declining registrations are impacting on the number of  hours of ice time they are allotted for practices and games.

The issue came to the forefront in the City of Greater Sudbury at the beginning of the 2003-2004 hockey season.

For the previous three years, the Northern Ontario Hockey Association passed a ruling requiring house league players to follow the same geographical restrictions as players in elite leagues. As a result of the closure of two arenas in the region, and declining registrations, some of the outlying organizations are finding that there are many boys and girls who want to play house league in the outlying communities instead of in the core Sudbury Minor Hockey Association. Unfortunately, these players will need releases. The problem is that no one organization can afford to lose players at the house league level without losing ice time. Ice time is allocated in accordance with registration totals.

In past years, all of the associations had an informal agreement to release any house league player upon request since there was high enrolment and players were moving across boundaries all of the time. With the intense competition for ice time, some associations are no longer "recruiting" one or two players to fill rosters, but rather, trying to encourage whole teams to move. It could easily escalate into a battle for children which includes incentives to attract much needed players. Some of the smaller communities may have to cease operation of certain levels due to a lack of players. These players will then hope to be picked up by neighbouring communities, thus affecting the balance of ice time allocation.


The question remains...should house league players face movement restrictions at all? If a boy or girl wants to play in a particular community at the house league level, and the association is willing to accept his registration, then why should the player be prevented from playing where he will enjoy his experience the most?

It is understandable that restrictions are important at the elite level. Nevertheless, the Greater Toronto Hockey League has a pretty liberal policy with respect to the movement of players within the organization. At the elite level there is much more danger that rich sponsors will come up with funds in order to have their club attain a better image for the sponsor. 

After The Whistle would like to find out what is happening in some of the other regions of Canada, the United States and around the world. Comments would be appreciated and will be posted for all of our readers.


After The Whistle would like to hear your comments on this issue.


The following is a series of letters that were exchanged between the publisher of After The Whistle and a parent from the community of Valley East, which is located in the northern sector of the City of Greater Sudbury in Ontario. The issues are likely common in a number of places around the world. We would like your comments.
I am the parent of a 10 year old boy who has been playing minor hockey within the Valley East Minor Hockey Association for the past 5 years and I have to firstly say that I have no ill feelings towards the coaches, assistant coaches or trainers that have been involved in my son's teams from the start.
My problem is:
The Valley East Minor Hockey Association operates on a tiering system that is vigourously defended by its board of directors as they have their own ideas as to how this system should operate. 
What I have observed, however, is that it would appear that this tiering system is defended by a board of directors who, interestingly enough, are all tier 1 (better, more advanced players) coaches who, also incidentally, preach that the tiering system is to allow tier 2 (less advanced/beginner players) players to improve their skills, while I have observed kids who were not tier 1 material on tier 1 teams because their parents are tier 1 coaches.  The Valley East Minor Hockey Association also defends its tiering system on "an extremely large volume" of players and claim that there is no other way to have it.  The tier 2 teams, interestingly enough, were short 9 ice times for practices.  How then can less experienced players get better?  No one in the Valley East Minor Hockey Association's board of directors was ever able to give a direct answer to that question.
They also refuse to remove the tiering system because, according to comments made by one of the coaches during a meeting, "it would dilute our good teams and make them less competitive".  How could he say this and at the same time, defend the tiering system by adding "so that kids could have fun playing the's not about winning games..."?  I find it strange that this organization is trying to suck and blow at the same time!  Presently tier 1 Valley East Minor Hockey teams appear to be having a a hard time being accepted in tournaments because other associations feel that Valley East is "Stacking the Deck" with high caliber players. 
I had attended the Valley East Minor Hockey Association General Annual Meeting where the removal of the tiering system was was voted against, therefore, the tiering system shall remain for another year.  (I have theories on why and how this occurred but that would be setting myself up a libel/slander civil litigation suit).  I understand the democratic process.  I am not in favour of this system, however, I shall respect that decision. 
My questions are:
What I have an extremely hard time with is that when a request had been made to obtain a release in order that my son play hockey in another township, I was told that this may not be possible because the Valley East Minor Hockey Association wants to make sure that it has enough players to make up enough Valley teams!
Why then, might it not be possible for my son to get a release if there is such a supposedly "an extremely large volume" of players?
Why then, am I stuck putting my son in an association that I feel does not look after the best interest of my child with their elitist system that does not assist him to progress to the best of his abilities?  (Admit it or not, there is a social stigma attached with what team kids play with where this transgresses into confrontations at school).
Why then, am I not, like any other customer (as I am paying an awful lot of money to put my son in hockey!) allowed to go somewhere else if I am not satisfied with the service I am getting?
We are now situated in the City of Greater Sudbury that now encompasses all of the former City of Sudbury, the former City of Valley East, the former Town of Capreol, the former Town of Nickle Centre, the former Town of Walden and the former Town of Rayside Balfour.  Why then it is necessary to have to obtain releases at all?
I now understand (and I stand to be corrected) that the Valley East Minor Hockey Association now plans on charging an administration fee to process releases (and only when the VEMHA season is under way.  Would this, to ensure an "extremely large volume of players" for more ice time allocation?) without even the guarantee of a release or reimbursement of funds in the release is not successfull. 
Kids in the old City of Sudbury could play within either the Sudbury Minor Hockey, Sports North or in Copper Cliff.
With the creation of the City of Greater Sudbury, why, once again, are ancien geographic boundaries coming into play in some areas and some not? 
This is just House League, not the NHL!!!
The Editor responded:
I will try to do some digging into the policies of the VEMHA and how they are affected by the NOHA policies. When I was involved in the system, house league players were not "carded". I understand that they are carded now and as such their freedom of movement is restricted by boundaries.
I am not sure if your son is a Tier I or Tier II player. I would suspect he is a Tier I level player.
Regardless, all players pay the same registration fee and are entitled to the same amount of ice time during the year. If some teams raise extra money for additional practices - so be it.
Movement between associations is determined by the NOHA policies as much as the local consitutions. Amalgamation did not affect the NOHA boundaries. That being said, there has always been an unwritten policy that allowed releases between communities as long as no child was displaced by an incoming player. I wouldn't think the problem would be encountered with getting a release FROM Valley East. The problem may be getting permission to ENTER another association. It doesn't appear that this is the case in your situation.
The Tier system works well as long as your priorities are on your own system and not on tournaments. The houseleague is a development league for the progressive teams. Unfortunately, I have seen many houseleague coaches treat their team as if it was a competitive team and enter upwards of six to eight tournaments per season. That is not the purpose of houseleague.
If you continue to have problems with getting a release, find out who your DISTRICT REP is for the NOHA and contact him.
Good luck.
Robert KIrwan
The writer answered:

My son is tier II and from what I can see from the V.E.M.H.A.'s ways of
doing things he probably will remain tier II forever.   

You are right about the same registration fee and there SHOULD be an
equal amount of ice time, however, the tier II players were short 9 ice
time practices not counting the extra ice time bought through
fund-raising by other teams (an ingenious idea but no one from any tier
II teams were even told by the V.E.M.H.A. that it was possible to do
this, although many of the tier I teams had been doing it for a long
time).  When this was brought up during the V.E.M.H.A. general meeting,
the tier II teams were told that this happened as an oversight, never
happened before, and shouldn't have happened.  It did happen before,
unluckily for the V.E.M.H.A., someone (the Atoms tier II convener - who
appeared to be the only one who fought for fairness) actually kept count
last season and was able to bring it up.  The teams did receive partial
reimbursement, but that was not the point.  

You are also right about the tiering system working IF it is being done
properly.  From what I and a lot of other parents have observed, it
would have appeared as if some players who could have made it into tier
I were bumped down to tier II because other players who were not tier I
material found places on tier I teams because their
parents/friends/relatives were tier I coaches/assistant
coaches/trainers.  The Atoms tier II players played Novice tier I teams.
 Great for the Novice players who got extra ice time, but the tier II
teams fell short on ice time again.

The tiering system does work if it is not being abused.

The removal of the tiering system was defeated during the last
V.E.M.H.A. annual general meeting.  As I said, I understand the
democratic process and can respect that.  If the V.E.M.H.A., its members
and the hockey parents want to keep what I consider to be an elitist
system, that's up to them.  I don't like that system, I want out.  Why
can I not have the option of going to another minor hockey association
that doesn't operate on a tiering system?  Why is it that kids who lived
in the former City of Sudbury be able to have the options of playing in
either Sudbury Minor Hockey, SportsNorth or Copper Cliff Minor Hockey,
and kids from the outside not?

The Editor responded:
Hi Gilles:

Make sure you attend all of the Board meetings and bring up the issue each
time. You definitely must be given the same amount of ice time for Tier II
because the registration fee is the same. If the Board does not honour this
commitment, then advise them that you will contact the NOHA in North Bay and
ask for an investigation.

As for the transfer issue, there is a "residency rule" under the NOHA that
governs all "carded" players. My understanding is that even Tier II players
are now carded (is this correct?) If so, you are really fighting a system
that has been holding on to the territorial reigns for a long time. The best
you can do is "negotiate a deal" between the two organizations. At the end
of the day, however, it is not really about the "hockey" as much as it is
about your son enjoying himself. Have you ever thought about coaching? It is
much easier to make changes when you are on the inside.

When we get into the latter part of August, contact me again and perhaps we
can do a story on this for The Vision Paper. I am going to be writing the
stories for the paper beginning in August and I think this would be a good

Take heart, however. My sons were all good hockey players. My youngest,
Marty was a 'AAA' Peewee player with the Lakers. They all quit playing after
Major Peewee to focus their time on high school sports and refereeing. It
was the best thing they could have ever done.

Enjoy the summer. We'll see what we can do this coming year.

Robert Kirwan
The writer continued:
Hi again, Rob!

Thanks for all the replies.

I'm sorry if I sounded like a parent who feels that his kid should have
made tier I and not tier II and wouldn't have ranted and raved if my son
had made tier I.  I just felt my son's frustration when he was on a
defensive line with a kid who had never skated before (no ill feelings
towards that kid, we all have to start somewhere and everyone has a
right to play) because my son was a stronger player and had to do the
job of two players at once.  What was also frustrating was that our team
hardly won any games (not that winning is an absolute must, but it is
important).  It's especially tough for the kids who were borderline
(lower tier I - upper tier II) caliber and felt that if the evaluations
had been done by independent 3rd party evaluators, they could have ended
up somewhere else.

I know kids who have left the V.E.M.H.A. to play in a non-tiering
environment.  What I saw were weaker kids who were forced to keep up
with the better kids and became better players in the long run.

I'd love to coach, but I can hardly skate (that's why I never
criticized the coaching.  It's a tough job in itself and I realize that
it's a totally volunteer commitment).  I did, however, very much enjoy
being one of the team managers.

My wife and I attended all the board meetings.  That's when we learned
about all the things that we felt were wrong with the tiering system.
We fought it and lost, but are not going to criticize it any more since
none of the parents who said they were against the tiering system ever
showed up for the meeting to cast a vote.

I spoke with my son at the camp fire last night, he said that he
wouldn't mind staying with the V.E.M.H.A. if he had nowhere else to go,
even if his tryout does leave him, once again, in the tier II division
because he enjoys the game and wants to play hockey.  I think that's
more important than anything else.

Thanks for writing back to me, it was actually quite therapeutic!

Hello Robert
Just to point out the fact the convener wrote the schedule with the tier II with less ice was not point out till mid Feb.
At that point I looked at both schedules and bought extra ice to make up for the conveners mistake. Everything was even up to one hour of ice so we gave each team money for a year  end party for the difference.
The player did get a release and played in a neighboring hockey association. But this year the numbers were down in peewee so we did not tier but they did not come back .
The parents came to us at the beginning of  the season and told us there was a mistake made on his evaluation. So the convener, another board member and myself looked at the player a second time. The conclusion was he was in the right place. I have had a number of parents with the same story and we always follow up the same way. I also have had many parents thank me after words because they were in the right place.
My son and a number of our boards kids played tier II and enjoyed the year. But I helped find that extra ice and fund raised to pay for it. In fact I was the coach so I also found teams to play extra games.You only get out what your willing to put into it.
I will be the first to say tiering is not a perfect system but I truly believe it's the best. I voted against it the first year my son was tykes because I heard it was bad and knew nothing about it as my son just came out of tykes. That was the closes it has ever been to be voted out. I believe 20 votes  difference out of 120 people there.
Now that I know more about it I truly believe there are many advantages.
Bob Bellerose
President VEMHA
I couldn't find any dates on your site.  Is it still active and current?

I was looking for discussions on the "new enforcement" initiative. 

Also, in Saskatoon, we have re-created the tier I minor hockey program. While we do not have a AAA division in PeeWee or Bantam, we had a huge inbalance in the zone system (neighborhood) version of creating teams - ie: 50% of the games were 10 - 0. In the past 2 years, we have virtually eliminated the blow out (ok, almost eliminated) games - less fighting and problems on the ice,  less hassle in the stands, and we have noticed a huge improvement already in the development of good players.

Thank you for your comments. The site is still active.

As for the new enforcement initiative, there haven't been many comments coming my way. It seems as if the expansion into minor hockey levels is discovering that unless you put two referees on the ice, along with two linesmen, you will never accomplish the same goals as the NHL.

Your comment about the Tier system is interesting. It is something that has been in place since the 1970's in my own neck of the woods (Sudbury, Ontario). However, it does depend on the numbers. If you have enough players for at least eight teams, you can form a Tier system.

Thanks Robert - and I enjoy the site.

The Tier System I mentioned was in response to a section on the site about improvements to minor hockey, and development.  The Tier System has been in place as long as I can remember in Saskatoon.  What we changed may not be an issue in GTA or some areas where kids can play for whatever team they want.  In our area, it has always been restricted residential boundries as to what zone you played with.  Each Zone had Tiers I,II,III, with Tier I being considered AA because of the size of the center.

What was changed was - all Bantam players in Saskatoon that want to play Tier I come to 1 tryout format.  After skills, scrimmages, etc. the players are drafted by coaches, much like a playoff pool at the office.  What has happened is we have virtually eliminated any blow out games, which has almost eliminated player issues with fighting and stupidity, as well the parents do not create a animosity as they have friends and former teammates on the other teams.  This year, after 18 games, 3rd through 7th in a 7 team Bantam AA league was separated by 4 points.  In PeeWee AA the difference is 1st through 5th (again 7 teams) is 6 points.

It was a very large battle within the community here, with a lot of criticism regarding playing outside of Saskatoon and being competitive, but for most people, all winter going to the rink and knowing that anyone can win has made it a lot more fun.  Also, the development that the kids get in playing in 3 -2 and 4-2 games all winter is huge.  Check the numbers of kids bantam drafted from Saskatoon per capita vs. other centers (last year it was 13  for the WHL - 5 in first round).  Also, the teams playing with this intensity all season were very much improved, and competitive within the province.

It was quite a battle.  Keep up the good work on the site.  To check our league out go to
Saskatoon population 200,000   Sudbury  175,000(?)

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