For the second straight season, major changes are coming to the Great North Midget League (GNML).
Some twelve months ago, incoming rookie commissioner Albert Corradini was thrilled to be announcing the unveiling of paperless tablet-based scoresheets, introducing an interesting draft formatted affiliation process with minor midget talent, and setting the wheels in motion for televised coverage of all league games.
While the new initiatives were not initiated without a hiccup or two along the way, Corradini remained committed to change. To wit, the alterations to the landscape of the GNML are even more dramatic heading into the 2019-2020 campaign.
For starters, some fairly significant shifting at both ends of the league schedule. "The genesis of these changes was the Atom pathway, a change coming down from Hockey Canada," explained Corradini. "Hockey Canada is concerned that hockey is starting too early and ending too early."
In fact, there is no denying that the mid to late February elimination of the first of the Great North post-season casualties has always been problematic, especially when fronted against a backdrop that sees the majority of teams, at all levels, including countless minor hockey houseleague teams, playing at least until the March break, or just slightly thereafter.
Effective this year, the northern Ontario midget "AAA" loop will commence regular season play on the weekend of September 27th to 29th to kick off their new campaign - sort of. Truth be told, all six of the major midget entries in the league will actually be attending the Toronto Titans Tournament one week earlier, all part of an effort to increase the number of games for athletes committing to the GNML.
"The more significant change is on the tail-end of our schedule," said Corradini. "No longer are we going to have league play done at the beginning of February." The upcoming schedule, for instance, will now extend right through until the weekend of March 8th, with all teams guaranteed 38 regular season games.
The post-season format, a long established series of one on one showdowns, will now take place in a round robin single weekend setting, with the first such event set to take place from March 12th to the 15th (2020), in Kapuskasing.
Limited to just the major midget teams, the tournament set-up will see each team guaranteed another five games, with both a bronze medal and gold medal game set for the final day of play on Sunday.
Additionally, with the longer schedule, all teams will now be permitted to attend four in-season tournaments (previously league rules limited each team to three, prior to the league schedule being established). Between regular season, post-season and tournament play (assuming four tournaments attended with a guarantee of four games for each team), GNML talent will now enjoy 59 games of action each and every winter.
Even the minor midget teams have increased their involvement, facing a double home and home against each major entry (24 games), plus six more head to head matchups between the first year midgets from Sudbury and North Bay.
"If we wanted to keep our league relevant, changes had to be made," said Corradini. "Our playoff format had become problematic. The travel requirements in February were problematic. This might not resonate with parents and kids in year one, but my hope is that it will have a huge appeal to the players."
"We are in competition to keep kids here," Corradini added.
Above and beyond simply increasing the number of games played, the Great North Midget League has also focused on seeking out opportunities to better showcase their young hockey prospects, ideally to representatives from as many different options as possible.
With that in mind, the league has been afforded entrance into the annual CCM Midget "AAA" Challenge in Chicoutimi (PQ) in early December. Along with all 15 teams that comprise the Quebec midget league, the 24 team team field now includes six teams from Atlantic Canada and a pair of prep school entries, along with the Great North Midget League all-stars.
Given that this provides the one and only chance, each winter, for scouts to see all of the Quebec midget hockey talent in a single setting (Quebec does not have minor midget hockey - all 15, 16 and 17 year olds play together), Corradini suggested that the invitation to northern Ontario is something of a coup for the GNML.
"I've never been to a tournament that has more exposure with team personnel representing NHL, QJMHL, OHL, NCAA," said Corradini, who attended the event in December of 2017 in Gatineau-Hull, part of the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves preparation that year for hosting the Telus Cup.
The all-star team will be selected by outside evaluators, bringing together the best 20 players from all eight GNML franchises (including the minor midgets), with no minimum team requirement, and no mandate with regards to an age breakdown for the team.
"We want the best twenty kids - period," said Corradini. The former general manager of the Nickel Capital Wolves noted that since he does not hold a vote at league meetings, it was imperative that the teams, from markets large and small, buy in to his vision of some of the enhancements that needed to be made within the GNML.
"The guys at the bottom bought in immediately, and the guys at the top bought in immediately," he said. "There is absolutely a sense of excitement. The new playoff format (which sees the host team determined on a rotation basis noted below) allows these communities to create some buzz around their team."GNML Playoff Tournament Host Team
2019-2020 - Kapuskasing Flyers
2020-2021 - Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves
2021-2022 - Timmins Majors
2022-2023 - New Liskeard Cubs
2023-2024 - Sault Ste Marie Jr Greyhounds
2024-2025 - North Bay Trappers