League expands before playing first game

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

And now there are six!

The National Junior Hockey League has added the Northern Alberta Lightning from Viking to swell the fledgling league to six teams.

The Lightning, who very likely will not be playing from Viking this season and are currently looking for a community to call home, join the Edson Eagles, Fox Creek Ice Kings, Gibbons Pioneers, High Prairie Red Wings and Northern Alberta Crush for play in the NJHL this season. The league is rapidly drawing a new schedule. No official date of the Lightning’s entry was published on the league website.

Red Wings’ owner Kevin Hopfner is pleased with expansion.

“We are extremely pleased with the fact that Viking chose to leave the (Canadian-American Junior Hockey League) to join us in the NJHL,” says Hopfner.

He adds Viking chose to leave the league due to internal issues.

However, a posting on the CAN-AM website Sept. 11 suggests a far different tale.

“The Canadian-American Junior Hockey League regrets to announce their disassociation with the Northern Alberta Lightning from the league due to the team’s failure to meet their financial commitments and adherence to league governance,” reads the post. “This decision was made after careful consideration and in accordance with the league’s policies.”

The post continues.

“The CAJHL strives to maintain a high standard of professionalism and financial stability within its member teams. Unfortunately, despite extensive efforts to support the Northern Alberta Lightning in meeting their obligations, the team’s inability to fulfill their financial commitments and follow league guidelines, has left the league with no choice but to sever the relationship with the team. The CAJHL will explore all legal options available.”

That has not deterred the NJHL from welcoming the Lightning with open arms.

“This is an exciting addition to our league,” says Hopfner. “They have an amazing facility and we are excited to play against them. The have such good support from their community.”

The situation is confusing. The owner of the Lightning, Michael Renenr, told South Peace News Sept. 13 that the team will not be playing out of Viking this season. A post on the Red Wings Facebook page still claims otherwise.

Renner also vehemently disputes the claim by the Can-Am League they were “disassociated”. As owner, he says he decided to join the Can-Am League and they were made promises (help with filling out the team’s roster) which did not come to fruition.

“They said they would help me build my roster,” says Renner.

And, he would have a say in league affairs. Later, he alleges decisions were made without his input.

An issue over the eligibility of 21-year-old players was also never resolved.

“In mid-August I was feeling unsupported,” says Renner. “I told them I was not getting any help or no new players.”

Efforts to hold a fundraising game at Viking yielded no response from the league. It was when players from the NJHL banded together to form a team and play the game.

Around that time, Renner spoke to Derrick Prue of the NJHL, who told him that NJHL owners would support him.

“I thought of switching leagues, it would be best for the franchise,” says Renner.

Sept. 11 was the day Renner made his decision. At 3:51 p.m. he sent a letter to the Can-Am League announcing his departure. At 4:30 p.m. they posted the announcement on their website. So Renner actually left the league, the league did not “disassociate” themselves from the Lightning.

Renner admits he did not pay his league dues as claimed by the Can-Am League simply because he was leaving.

“Basically, I told them I would pay my fees if they delivered on what they promised,” Renner earlier told the league before leaving.

Renner officially joined the NPHL at 6:30 p.m.

“As soon as the announcement came out, I started signing players,” says Renner.

However, the City of Viking cancelled his ice agreement leaving no place for the Lightning to play.

“At this point, we won’t be in Viking, no chance,” says Renner. “I’m negotiating with a couple places.”

Still, negotiations are continuing with Town of Viking on ice.

The Red Wings left the Greater Metro Hockey League after four seasons and won the last three league titles. All teams joined the NJHL except for the Slave Lake Ice Dogs, which folded.

Share this post