The High Prairie Red Wings captains hold the West Division championship trophy in the Greater Metro Hockey League on March 25 for the last time. High Prairie won the title for three straight seasons. Left-right, are team owner and general manager Kevin Hopfner, assistant captain Keegan Ferguson, captain Avery McNabb, assistant captain Dayton Shantz and head coach Trent Meyaard.

The High Prairie Red Wings and all other teams in the West Division have been released by the Greater Metro Hockey League.

However, Red Wings’ owner and general manager Kevin Hopfner says all Alberta teams in the division will play in the new National Junior Hockey League.

“None of the teams will be folding or looking for a new league,” Hopfner says.

“All Alberta teams at this point have committed to move forward in the NJHL.

“We will be bigger, better and more competitive.”

The news from GMHL president Bob Russell was posted on the GMHL webite on May 28.

“Effective immediately, all team memberships in Alberta and British Columbia will not be renewed for the upcoming 2023-24 season,” Russell states in a letter to GMHL members, staff, players and fans.

“Due to financial challenges and various other issues, we are left with no choice but to cease all team operations within the region,” Russell says.

He says the decision was made after careful consideration of the circumstances and the impact on the overall stability and functioning of the GMHL.

“We understand the disappointment and frustration this news may bring, both for the affected teams and the dedicated individuals involved,” Russell says.

“It is our intention to prioritize the sustain- ability and long-term viability of the league as a whole.”

Russell and the league appreciate all those who supported the Red Wings and other teams in the West Division.

“We express our sincere gratitude to all the teams, players, staff and fans who have been part of the West Division.”

Hopfner disputes statements from the GMHL.

“Comments made by the president are not all that accurate,” Hopfner says.

“The GMHL made it sound like we defaulted on paying our league fees.

“The fact of the matter is the West Division has been trying to address several issues that we have with the league.

“We felt the return we are getting from our fees was not justified.”

Hopfner decliend to comment what the issues wer citing league confidentiality agremments.

Each team was ready and willing to pay all fees if the GMHL was willing to address concerns of teams in the West Division.

“However, they were not even willing to listen to the issues we had, so we did hold back our fees for the 2023-24 season,” Hopfner says.

It wasn’t that West teams couldn’t pay, he says.

“It was because the GMHL wasn’t willing to address our issues,” Hopfner says.

Plans for a new league have been in the works for several months by West teams.

“We decided several months ago to be prepared to start a new league in the West with a western flavour and not be at the mercy of the eastern divisions who really don’t care about the West,” Hopfner says.

He says West teams are not surprised by the GMHL announcement.

“We had been trying to deal with the issue at hand for several months,” Hopfner says.

The GMHL was started in 2006 with teams in Ontario and Quebec before the league expanded with the West Division in 2019 with teams in Alberta.

The league welcomed its first team in British Columbia in 2021 at Mackenzie.

by Richard Froese

June 8, 2023

This item copyrighted by / South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

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