As the AJHL readies for another great season of on-ice product – its 46th, it’s important to understand and appreciate all of the improvements made over the years both on and off ice.
This is a big year for the League with many new initiatives, some key rule changes, marketing innovations, and culminating with Camrose hosting the Royal Bank Cup in 2011.
Being the host of a National marquee event such as the RBC, puts an extra lens on a League that is already recognized as one of the best Junior A loops in the world.
League President Craig T. Cripps is excited about the advent of the season as he and his leadership team know there are big challenges ahead.
“I’m really looking forward to hosting the RBC, of course, it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to grow our brand recognition, provide opportunities for our teams, our players and really junior hockey in Western Canada,” said Cripps.
From a marketing standpoint, it’s an exciting time for Bartoshyk.
“The 2010-11 AJHL season is definitely one of anticipation. With the community of Camrose hosting the RBC Cup, it brings the League a level of excitement both on and of the ice,” he says.
“We look forward to the support the community will provide the event, but also how it will impact the competitive nature of our 16 teams and their pursuit to reach that event,” he said.
On ice, the action promises excitement as well, thanks to a few rule changes. The biggest of those in the regular season is the reinstatement of the shootout to decide games after one five-minute overtime of three-on-three.
“The shootout is very exciting and you know, I get a chance to speak with players and fans at events throughout the summer and the players I find are really excited about it… some are talking about becoming shootout specialists and such,” Cripps says with a chuckle.
“I know some of the coaches don’t particularly like it, but the players and certainly the fans seem to.”
A continued tradition for the League will be the annual Showcase weekend, where all League clubs gather in one locale and play a couple of contests that count in the standings. The idea is hold it in a central location so that more scouts can travel to one spot and see all of the players. This year’s edition of the Crescent Point Energy Corp and Legacy Oil & Gas AJHL Showcase, returns to Spruce Grove where it was so successful in 2009. The event goes Sept.30-Oct. 2 at the TransAlta Tri-Leisure Centre.
“We’re excited about going back to Spruce Grove,” says Cripps.
“Great fans, great organization and wonderful volunteer support, we just couldn’t do these kinds of things without the tremendous fan support.”
The event, the fourth annual, has allowed as many as 100 scouts per year a chance to look at the League’s players and hence has greatly increased scholarship opportunities – which remains a key component of the League’s mantra – to provide educational opportunities through hockey.
“Clearly, hockey is the most important goal for most of the players, but you move on in life and using that opportunity – hockey – to further your education is key for us. We’re very proud of our record in that area, we graduate a significant number of players to college commitments in the States and in Canada each year – we always want to see that number increase, but we are still proud of our players and our accomplishments.”
Of course, corporate support and community partnerships remain key to the league’s continued success. This season represents a continuation of many ongoing partnerships and the development of some new relationships.
“Over the past four seasons, we have created a brand that provides value and is attractive to corporate partners based on three key components: Provincial reach, community involvement and our student athletes,” says Bartoshyk.
“Without the support of these partners we could not execute such initiatives as the Showcase or the re-launch of AJHL.ca. We are proud to build and develop relationships with each and every one of our corporate partners and welcome the Alberta Motor Association, Pizza 73 and Legacy Oil & Gas to our stellar team of supporters,” he added.
“Our partners’ support is critical to our brand; we couldn’t enjoy the success we have without them,” he added.
Another key initiative for the League is its move to cut down on violence, unnecessary fighting, checking from behind, checking to the head, and bullying. It’s an initiative Cripps says is a working document that will evolve, but it’s a bold first step.
It’s called the Junior A Supplement, a partnership between the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), and Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL), to launch the pilot project in the 2010-2011 CJHL Season.
“The five Member Leagues involved in the creation of the Junior A Supplement have taken a tremendous step in the effort to reduce and eliminate violence and bullying in Junior A hockey,” says Cripps.
“Our League and its teams, coaches and players are committed to providing a safe environment for every player while also maintaining an exciting, physical brand of hockey on the ice.”
And at the end of the day, exciting hockey is what it’s all about and this year’s AJHL campaign promises to deliver just that.
“We know that the eyes of Junior A hockey will be on Camrose and we look to show the nation that the AJHL is one of the premier Leagues in Canada,” says Bartoshyk.