Ice hockey stick in the hand of a player. © Can Stock Photo / SergeyKuznecov

OHA/GOJHL Inc. Dispute Taking Centre Stage As 2018-19 Season Kicks Off

A disagreement between some junior hockey teams and the Ontario Hockey Association could soon boil over.

There are layers of issues involving the dispute between a couple of leagues, including the OJHL and GOJHL Inc. and the OHA.

GOJHL Inc. is a group of Jr. B level teams that want more say and control over league operations. However, the OHA disagrees with a number of financial issues.

In 2015, the GOJHL Inc. was formed to help run the league in a more business like fashion. As part of the plan, teams agreed to pay fees of $750 per player to help cover the costs of the annual Showcase, advertising and even billeting. The Showcase was designed to create an opportunity for players to skate in front of scouts from higher levels of hockey in a game situation at a location that everyone had access to. In the last couple of seasons, the Showcase was held at the beginning of the season with teams playing a couple of games through a weekend against teams they would not normally face during the regular season. This season, the Showcase was postponed.

The $750 player fee was above and beyond the regular fees charged by the OHA. This season some teams did not want to pay the league fees and GOJHL Inc. wanted the OHA to step in and enforce the fee structure but that is not currently part of the OHA’s directive.

Another issue is being challenged by the Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Jr. A branch of the OHA. It’s leading a charge to have the board of directors at the OHA level removed. That consists of of Gary Moroney, Tim Simmons, Shawn McKelvie, Jeff Beatty and Brad Grant as well as President Karen Phibbs. That’s because the board was put in place without a vote and certain conditions were agreed upon at the annual general meeting without a vote. That included an increase in league fees from $339 to $399 per player. That OJHL concern has the reported backing of 15 Jr. B clubs within the GOJHL and the PJHL. That’s the Provincial Junior Hockey League which is made up of Jr. C  level teams.

A letter was submitted back on September 4, requesting a special meeting, which has to take place within 15 days of the letter’s submission. That meeting is expected to take place this Saturday.

But recent reports that the GOJHL Inc. would break from the OHA to form leagues or conferences is not true according to two sources in communication with CKNX News.

The dispute has already caused some delays including a late schedule for the GOJHL and the delayed Showcase.

There has been no response from the OHA despite reaching out multiple times for an interview.

Pelham Panthers owner Tim Toffolo, who is not part of the GOJHL Inc. group of teams, says this is a major issue that should be put to rest.

“I’ve said it before in the papers, and I’ll repeat it again, this GOJHL Inc. group should be ashamed of themselves. They’re ruining junior hockey for the kids. I’ve been an owner for 17 years, and this has always been about the kids and moving them on to higher levels. There’s currently a faction of teams that don’t believe in that. They’re in it for money. This is not what Hockey Canada is about, and if you wanna do something or create something different, that’s fine, go do that but get out,” Toffolo said.

When asked if rumours of the GOJHL breaking off into separate leagues independent of the OHA were true, Toffolo was quick to answer.

“All I’ll say is our team is a member of the OHA, in fact we pay to renew our membership yearly, and we will remain with the OHA. I don’t know who these other guys think they are or what entity they think they’re a part of, but it’s certainly not the same thing that I’m on board with, or that many other teams are on board with. This all needs to stop now, and at the end of the day we’re all part of Hockey Canada, and we’re members of Hockey Canada, the OHF and the OHA. So I think at some point, somebody is going to have to help resolve this however they can. Whether all parties are happy or satisfied with how they resolve it, I don’t know, but obviously this GOJHL Inc. group is not satisfied with how the OHA tried to resolve this, and they’re not satisfied with how the OHF has tried to resolve this. There are two governing bodies that this GOJHL Inc. doesn’t agree with, and I guess the next step after that is Hockey Canada, and if they wanna keep on going after that, I mean I really don’t know anymore. I mean, that’s a group that, if you don’t wanna listen, and follow the rules of your governing bodies, then maybe you shouldn’t be involved in hockey with these organizations. Maybe you should go be in your own unsanctioned league and make whatever rules you want and do what you want.”

Toffolo also commented on the play being initiated by GOJHL Inc. to potentially remove the OHA Board of Directors and President Karen Phibbs.

“Look, I’m part of the OHA, and that’s where I’ll always choose to be. Whether I like all the rules or not, I choose to follow them. That’s one of the key issues here, these people do not want to follow the rules, they wanna make their own rules and govern themselves, and you know what? There’s a place to go do that, it’s called unsanctioned hockey, outside of the OHF, the OHA and Hockey Canada. They’ve already tried to oust the board once, now they’re trying to oust the board and Karen. I’m not going to comment on whether I think people should or shouldn’t be in the OHA, but what I will say is that Karen Phibbs or any other OHA employee are exactly that, employees. So any elected board of directors has that authority to hire, fire, or decide if someone should be in that position. The members of the association don’t have that authority. Where they think they have that authority is beyond me. They’re causing turmoil within the OHA, and it’s a shame.”

Don Annett, a former team president in the GOJHL, says that isn’t the case.

“This was never about money. We simply wanted more say in how our league operates. It is the teams and the league that do the vast majority of the work but it was the OHA who seemed to have all the control. The OHA also did very little to promote the individual leagues as they typically only promoted themselves. As a league, we wanted to promote our players, our teams, and our league. Several years ago we voted to incorporate ourselves, hire a commissioner, and try to convince the OHA to give us some autonomy over the decisions that affected the league that we put so much effort into.”

Annett also says that the teams in the league all voted for the GOJHL player fees as a collective group.

“We also voted to have team/player fees that would pay for the promotion of our league and the operation of showcase tournaments and other events. Most votes were unanimous or at the very least, the majority of teams were in favor as we set up player fee amounts and took the steps we did to try to gain some amount of control over decisions that affected our league.
Unfortunately last year, a few teams decided that they didn’t want to pay the fees even though they were still collecting the money from their players. The OHA even supported that decision by saying teams only had to pay the OHA fees. The logic from both of those camps were mind boggling since the fees were voted on democratically and the OHA really should have had no say in it. However, the OHA said teams that didn’t pay the GOJHL fees could continue playing in our league even though they weren’t sharing the burden of the costs.”

Finally, Annett says that again, the GOJHL itself should be having more say in the daily operation of the league, not the OHA.

“The reality is that the OHA does very little aside from collecting fees, a small amount of administration, and assigning referees. Considering it is the teams/players that pay for their operation, you would think the teams and leagues would have a little more say in our individual league’s operation. In recent OHA correspondence, they continue to show no respect for our league and say they don’t recognize our organization. Considering that we are incorporated, democratically run, and only goal is to promote our players, teams, and league, the easy question is ‘Why Not?'”