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I’ve always thought the SJHL has some of the most entertaining hockey, and I never even played a game of it despite growing up in a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League city. The league is always a front-runner when it represents the West at the Royal Bank Cup, but it lacks some of the scholarship power of others.
SJHL Hockey puts an intriguing spin on the scholarships its players receive—there are plenty of scholarships for the leagues size, but the majority are for division III or CIS. However, there are always a couple of gems to prized NCAA division I schools.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League also garners some pro interest and tryouts from the Central league (and Southern Pro league).
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League differs from most provinces in that there are usually just a handful of players who are midget-aged in the league. This can be attributed to the highly competitive midget AAA league in the province where players move out of home and choose where they live, much like junior hockey. The league’s prospect are also regularly picked up by the five major junior teams in the province. There is certainly enough midget, major junior and SJHL hockey in the province.
The playoff format is also shorter than in other leagues. Teams winning the SJHL Hockey championship usually are formidable at the national championship, appearing in the final six out of the past eight seasons (as of 2012).
Travel in this league is average for the west with the exception of the Flin Flon and La Ronge clubs that are in the North. (Flin Flon, a mining town, is actually just over the border in Manitoba.) None of the league’s teams are privately owned, and no one team dominates the league for a decade like in other leagues, creating fairer competition. (I talk about how private ownership and a team’s budget affect your junior hockey experience in my book, The Junior Hockey Truth.) It should be noted though that most teams recruit locally when compared to those of other leagues, especially when bringing in midget players, and they carry smaller scouting staffs
Becoming a Player
To play SJHL hockey, your best bet is to attend a team’s spring camp. Spring camps provide the opportunity to be seen before a fall camp when final decisions are made. They are also the time when the top recruits will be guaranteed spots on the team before fall Major Junior camps.
Due to the abundance of older players—note a recent drop to eight 20-year-olds allowed per team permitted in the lineup each game, dropping to seven in 2013-14—in the league, the league often has stronger, mature players. The league cites that 40 per cent of its players are 17 – 18 years old, on par for any Junior A league, as it tries to get more in sync with B.C. and Alberta.
In Saskatchewan, chances are you will have played games for an SJHL team while in midget and been placed on their protected list by 17. Local players and AAA midget players in Yorkton and North Battleford automatically land on this list, and all others can be picked up when they turn 15. (If multiple teams want a player, the player gets choice of the teams at hand.)
For players coming from out of province, you simply try out and make arrangements with team. Under new import rules, “imports” are only considered out-of-country players (which is rare in the SJ), not out of province players, like every Junior A league in the country.
Affiliated players, listed on their team’s protected list, can play a maximum of 10 games per season. If their regular team completes their season, the affiliate may finish the year with his Junior A team.
To permanently stick with a team, the important roster cut down dates in SJHL hockey are December 1 and January 10. These dates when each team must submit a list of 25 and 23 players respectively that will continue to play. It ensures teams don’t have an endless roster of players hoarded.
Players returning from major junior must report to the team that has protected him. However, if a player does not wish to report to that team, he may leave to another province if he hasn’t player Junior A before, or he may simply say he will not play.
Like I said before, SJHL hockey players get noticed by schools, but most of these schools are in Canada (CIS and ACAC) or division III schools in the States (NAIA). Division III can be a tricky option because players can end up paying portions or all of their books, living and tuition, in American dollars at the higher American tuition cost. Players going the CIS route will likely receive the same or better scouting opportunities. That being said, it’s always an experience crossing the border to play, and you’ll get a good education (even if you pay for it).
Players who finish high school in the province before playing have a leg up on academic side of getting a scholarship. Saskatchewan schools are denoted as more rigorous than American high schools, so high school grades translate to a higher GPA within the NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly the “Clearinghouse”).
It’s become commonplace that the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has at least one player drafted each year, and NHL Central Scouting does follow the league, especially teams close to major centres and Major Junior teams. If you have the skills, you’ll be seen.
The league has also done away with its annual showcase event and has increased the league by a couple of games, up to 56.
Every year, a handful of players decide to try the pro route and get Central league tryouts from SJHL Hockey. Players can make a living through the winter in this league. Increasingly, players are trying out the Southern Pro league, a non-affiliated semi-pro league that allows players to keep playing and earn a little cash doing it. I talk about which pro leagues are worth passing up scholarships for and which aren’t in my book.
The standard mentions of the SJHL are: Rod Brind’ Amour, Wendel Clark, Curtis Joseph, Vincent Lecavlier, Brad Richards, Ron Hextall, Ken Daneyko, Chris Chelios, Ruslan Fedetenko, Glenn Hall and Barry Melrose. Recent alumni to reach success include Jaden Schwartz.
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Jun 5, 2013
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