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Canadian Junior Hockey (CHL) 101

Photo: Vincent Éthier/QMJHL media 2015 CHL Memorial Cup Champion Oshawa Generals.

Quick Note: This is an article I have wrote in the past however I felt with the Canadian Hockey League or simply CHL, season almost upon us as well as my expanded coverage of prospects, I decided to re-post it with some updated information to kind of keep it fresh. If you ever had any questions about Jr. Hockey in Canada this is the article for you.

What is the Canadian Hockey League (CHL)?

The Canadian Hockey League or CHL is actually an umbrella organization that unites and represents 3 regional hockey leagues that combine for 60 teams, 52 located in Canada and 8 teams in the USA. These leagues are the Western Hockey League, The Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The CHL was founded in 1975. Players in this league generally range from 16-20 years of age, but a team can only carry three players who are 20 and four that are 16. A 15 year old may play if they have exceptional status… more on that later.

The Western Hockey League (WHL) is a 22 team league made up of teams from the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia as well as a division of five teams located in the USA from the states Washington and Oregon. The league was founded in 1966. The championship trophy for the WHL is the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is a 20 team league made up from teams in the province of Ontario as well as three teams located in the USA with two in the state of Michigan and one in Pennsylvania. The league was originally founded in 1933 and is the oldest of the three. The championship trophy for the OHL is the J. Ross Robertson Cup.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) usually simply referred to as “The Q”. is the smallest of the three leagues with 18 teams from the Provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. There are no teams from the USA in the Q. It is the youngest of the three leagues being founded in 1969. The championship trophy for the QMJHL is the President’s Cup.

The leagues for the most part run individually handling things like supplemental discipline, as well as some flexibility with rules for off-ice situations. They all have a regular season that concludes with best of seven playoffs and crown their own champions. They also have a series of events that encompass players from all 3 member leagues. Each league has it’s own individual awards that are handed out at the end of the season in addition to those handed out by the CHL that cover all three leagues.

CHL/NHL Transfer Agreement

One question that gets asked in NHL circles a lot is why can’t player X go to the AHL team for a few games? Chances are its because of the transfer agreement that the CHL has with the NHL. This rule states that while a player is eligible to play for their junior team that the player can either play in the NHL or for the CHL team that holds their rights. The spirit of this is to allow players that have nothing left to gain the ability to graduate to the NHL. This agreement allows the CHL not to loose all their top talent to the farm systems of NHL clubs.

It is important to note that while after 9 NHL games are played the first year of the players entry level contract are activated, a player can be returned from and NHL club to their CHL club at any time. Also if a players CHL season has concluded they can in that circumstance only suit up for the AHL of their drafting organization. Finally if the player is considered an over age player and their CHL team won’t make a spot for them (either for import or over age) they can waive the right to that player so he can play in the AHL.

Exceptional Player Status

The CHL has a rule where kids that are considered exceptional talent can play in the CHL at the age of 15, players who have had this distinction have mostly come from the OHL thus far and the short list includes John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and Sean Day. In 2015/16 the first player granted exceptional status to play in the QMJHL Joey Velano will take to the ice for the Saint John Sea Dogs. He was selected first overall in the QMJHL draft.

Annual CHL Events

The CHL Import Draft: All CHL teams as of this writing are allowed to carry to “import players”. American players are not considered imports as the distinction is reserved for those players from Europe and Russia. These players are selected in a separate draft from the standard draft which are done individually by the three member leagues.

The Subway Super Series: This is an exhibition tournament that is usually held in November that spans six games in six randomly selected cities. The series pits a group of selected Russian players known as the Russian Selects against an all star team from each league for two games. So they would play two games vs. Team QMJHL, two vs. Team OHL and two vs. Team WHL. The points accumulated by the regional league teams are added together as Team CHL and the team with the most points at the end of the super series is declared the winner. The CHL team has won all but three of these series since their inception in 2003. Team Russia won the most recent series in November of 2014.

BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game: 40 of the top undrafted prospects play in a game that is usually a lot of fun to watch. It’s what everyone wishes the NHL All Star game was as there are a lot of scouts usually in attendance. The game is coached by Don Cherry and Bobby Orr and other former players and coaches often act as assistant coaches.

The MasterCard Memorial Cup: This is the grand finale of the CHL season that pits the champion teams from each of all three leagues and a host city against each other. The tournament starts with a round robin followed by followed by a single elimination playoff format similar to international hockey tournaments. Aside from the Stanley Cup Playoffs or an Olympic year with NHL players this is a big must watch for me. The host city is decided in a rotation between the three leagues, the 2015 Memorial Cup was hosted by the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL and the 2016 Memorial Cup will be hosted by Red Deer returning to an OHL city in 2017 with Hamilton being the favorite.

To host the memorial cup there are a few factors that come into play one is that your team actually has to be good and considered a contender within your league, because of the other qualifications it has become a point of much debate. You need a state of the art facility because its big money tournament now. You also need a solid organizing committee and community support.

The IIHF World U20 Championship: More commonly referred to as The World Juniors. While this is a International Ice Hockey Federation event it may be the one of the most important to a junior player. This tournament is where the best available players whose 20th birthday (Born in 1996 for 2016) falls in the year of the the tournaments end or is no younger than 15 (Born in 2001 for 2016) the when the tournament concludes has the opportunity to represent their country. For many this is the last time they will represent their country in a major IIHF event especially those from the major hockey powers (Canada, United States, Russia, Finland and Sweden.)

Other quick facts

– The CHL is considered a professional league rather than a amateur league by the NCAA and playing a game in any of the three CHL leagues makes a player ineligible to play in the NCAA.

– Sean Day is the only player to be granted exceptional status by the CHL and not be selected 1st overall in his leagues (OHL) draft and very likely won’t be taken first overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft either.

– Unlike the NHL, the CHL cannot refuse to send a player to the IIHF U20 Championship. (The World Junior Championships)

– Starting in the 2015/16 season the CHL will be implementing a “One-Fight Rule” where any player who fights will be given a 5 minute penalty and an automatic game misconduct (ejection from the game).

– Visors are mandatory across the CHL.

– The QMJHL has adopted 3 on 3 overtime for their regular season to mimic the NHL starting in the 2015/16 season.

– On average 54% of all NHLers come from the CHL, 24% from the NCAA while the remaining players come from the various European Leagues.

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Ian Reid

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