Nine teams to break ice in new league

The Scarborough Hockey Association may be caught up in the final games before playoffs, but its players and parents are more concerned with where they will play next year.

Last month, The Observer reported a few SHA teams might be forced to merge with the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

After issuing a newsletter, it is official.

Next season nine Scarborough teams will find themselves trying out for the GTHL in April.

“You’re looking at about 150 kids [affected],” said Ed Wahl, who takes over as SHA president next season.

Wahl said that the change was bound to happen.

“We’ve been draining the system for the last 10 years,” Wahl said. We have virtually no hockey players left.”

Since the 1970s, enrolment has dropped from over 10,000 to under 1,000. Much of the problem has to do with the changing demographic in Scarborough. According to a 2006 survey, 57 per cent of Scarborough residents were foreign born. Wahl said first- and second-generation immigrants are more engaged with sports from their ancestry than with Canadian hockey.

“Everyone keeps saying that new Canadians will play,” Wahl said. “They will once they grow up and have their own kids, and they’ve grown up with the game.”

In addition to sending teams from the community-based SHA to the much broader Greater Toronto system, the SHA has created a minor development (MD) league to continue facilitating competitive hockey. The MD league is intended to house players who are looking for competition, but are not yet ready financially, or skill-wise, to play in the GTHL’s “A” Division.

“It’s basically a bridge from house league to competitive,” Wahl said. “They will get their two games a week, they will have their contact hockey. The only thing they do lose is tryouts.”

Instead of tryouts, the MD league will host preseason skates in September. Wahl said that assigning individuals to teams, similar to house league, will ensure that the league is competitive. In recent years, each division has had a team that struggled to win a single game during the regular season.

“You want kids coming to the game not knowing if they are going to win or lose,” Wahl said.

Players are not the only ones being shifted around. Coaches too will be forced to adapt to the changing structure.

“Our hopes are that all the coaches that are being displaced, the majority of them will step up and want to help in the MD program,” Wahl said.

“I may be old fashioned, but my thoughts are that it shouldn’t really matter who you’re coaching, it should be to help kids in general,” he added.

Wahl said that despite closing down its most competitive league, the SHA would not be folding entirely.

“We’re hoping we can make this grow into something that the SHA used to be, and that was a viable option [compared with] the ‘A’ Division in the GTHL,” Wahl said. “We’re not closing our doors, we’re trying to reinvent ourselves under the circumstances.”

Costs to play in the SHA are roughly $900, as compared to Scarborough teams moving to the GTHL, where costs will be about $1,200.

The SHA was created in 1956.