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Hockey Manitoba, Churchill High School drop gloves over Grade 9 players

Churchill High School.
Churchill High School. Winnipeg School Division

Teenage hockey players at Churchill High School may find themselves riding the bench this season, as Hockey Manitoba has decided not to sanction the team’s lineup, which features exclusively Grade 9 students.

Although the Churchill Bulldogs high school team – the school’s first in four years – was approved by the Manitoba High School Athletics Association (MHSAA) and the Winnipeg High School Hockey League (WHSHL), Hockey Manitoba said they weren’t comfortable with the idea of having Grade 9 players competing against older athletes, and nixed the team’s roster.

A missed season could be a big loss for players, as they’re now too late to participate in triple-AAA and double-AA tryouts, said Chad Falk, executive director of the MHSSA, and they now find themselves in the middle of a debate about their hockey futures.

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“That’s what we’re driving to, just to provide them the opportunity to not only play high school hockey, but to represent their high school. At the end of the day, that’s the crux of what high school sport is about, the chance to represent your team, your community,” said Falk.

Hockey Manitoba’s executive director, however, says the Churchill team was warned that the proposed Grade 9 roster was frowned upon. Peter Woods said Churchill had gone through a series of applications  — first as a sports school program, then as a prospect team, and finally as a reactivated Churchill Bulldogs high school team.

“They were still running on the same premise of a sports school program and identifying that kids were exclusively born in 2004. That’s how the program has been marketed. We don’t think that’s in good conscience and in line with what high school sports is all about. There are no 10s, 11s or 12s participating on that team, and that’s certainly a concern for Hockey Manitoba,” said Woods.

“I think there’s one thing to allow a couple of kids to participate on a team to supplement that particular roster, but to make an entire team of Grade 9s, I really think is out of line.”

From Churchill High School’s point of view, the emphasis on Grade 9 players has more to do with demand among students than any attempt to sidestep official rules.

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“High school hockey left Churchill due to lack of interest about four years ago, and the current interest is from our younger students,” said the school’s principal, Ryan Hughes.

“That’s one of the reasons we anticipated the roster being mainly Grade 9, and that did come to fruition when we had (only) three other students come out to the tryouts, even though it was open to everybody.

“In my conversations with them this morning it is not about not wanting our team in the league, but it’s causing a large amount of concern regarding the insurance side of things.”

Hughes, along with Falk and Woods, all say they’re hoping for a quick resolution to the situation but so far, discussions have been unproductive.

The groups plan to meet Thursday night.

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WATCH: Hockey Manitoba making big changes and moving to half ice for 7 and 8-year-old players

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Hockey Manitoba making big changes and moving to half ice for 7 and 8 year old players