Unfortunately for the Oklahoma City Blazers of the WSHL, circumstances have prevented them from participating in the Canadian road trip that they had planned involving teams from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Manitoba Junior Hockey League, and the North American Hockey League. The plan was to play seven games with six teams over nine days in September.
With the WSHL a part of the United Hockey Union, the hockey subsidiary of the Amateur Athletic Union USA, the teams in the SJHL, MJHL, and NAHL were reportedly told not to take part in the road trip as the Blazers were not a part of USA Hockey, or Hockey Canada. Unfortunately, the UHU is not recognized by either organization as an official hockey body, nor by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The move comes as a big blow to the Blazers and the other teams involved as many things were planned around the road trip. The Estevan Bruins were billing their two-game set against the Blazers as a return of Blazers head coach Tyler Fleck and assistant coach Marco Cefalo. Both played for the Bruins during their junior careers and were members of their championship team in 1998-99. The Bruins had been planning to use these games in a fundraising campaign as well.
A lot of the teams were excited at this prospect, as just having something different take place during the preseason. To have a team from Oklahoma head to Canada to take on these teams was going to be a special event for everyone involved to see a different team and a fresh level of play.
Amid the disappointment comes from the fact that it sounds like neither USA Hockey or Hockey Canada like the prospect of a team from another hockey organization playing one of their teams. While it’s true that the WSHL and NAHL are on the same tier of junior hockey now and can be looked at as rival leagues, it seems odd and silly that the Canadian teams would be told to back out as well.
I reached out for comment, and received this from an executive at Hockey Manitoba:
“The Blazers are not a member of USA [Hockey] and therefore not eligible to play against teams in Canada that are members of Hockey Canada. Participation of our members against non-sanctioned teams would result in loss of any insurance coverage and place our member teams in peril.”
“Insurance is only one of the benefits of membership. We only allow members to participate against teams that are registered with HC, USA or IIHF.”
“The primary reason is they are not sanctioned and if we allow our teams to participate against non sanctioned team it reduces the value of being sanctioned members.”
I also reached out for comment from a representative at USA Hockey, but have not heard back.
The Blazers have made attempts to play some of the local NAHL teams in the surrounding area, but all the challenges have been declined.
The biggest detriment in all of this is that unless registered with USA Hockey, the Blazers are not permitted to coach or assist the growth and development of youth hockey teams in OKC. With the talent that has been coming up out of the Oil Kings program here in OKC, this is a missed opportunity to help grow the game.