Gregor: Time for a change in AJHL leadership
Bartoshyk replaces Cripps as junior A hockey league restructures organization
EDMONTON - Change is inevitable in life, especially in sports, and that’s why Craig Cripps won’t be returning for his eighth season as president of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Chairman of the board Greg Wood acknowledged that Cripps’ role will be split between the new commissioner, Ryan Bartoshyk, and the yet-to-be-named vice-president of hockey operations.
“There is nothing negative to say about Craig. When we hired him, we couldn’t afford to pay numerous people. When Craig stepped in, the president’s role should have been segregated in hindsight,” Wood said. “Our organizational structure has changed a bit. In the past, the president’s role was directly involved in some of the discipline issues, where now, the new VP of hockey operations will work day-to-day with the coaches and handle registration issues as well as player trades.”
Rarely do we get an open and honest assessment of the overview of a hockey league from someone on the inside. The NHL will always tell you things are great, yet they have a lockout every six or seven years, but Cripps agreed to give me his thoughts on the state of the AJHL.
“The only concern that I have now is the same concern I had when I first started,” said Cripps. “I had CFLPA experience, NHL and NBA experience at the team level, and my biggest concern after receiving the job seven years ago was personal agendas of some of the governors and how I would maintain a balance.
“At the amateur level, you can just show up. It’s not like you have to earn your position as a governor. If you are associated with a group that has money and you infiltrate that group and want to be involved, you can. It’s not like being hired at the NHL, NFL or pro levels where you have to earn it. Some of the governors, not all of them, had personal agendas,” he said.
“One of my first decisions was that I wanted to restructure our bylaws and regulations, which really hadn’t been taken care of since 1963 when the league began. I felt that was a catalyst in assisting me in ensuring we didn’t have an old boys club. Instead, we would have 16 governors looking at rules and regulations and trying to move the league in a positive direction.
“The past year or so, we had at least two governors who at certain times couldn’t handle that and had personal agendas that sometimes would corrupt the group. Overall, though, I had a pretty good group of governors,” he said.
Cripps made it clear he wasn’t bitter and, in fact, cherished his time in the AJHL, but he recognized that it was likely the right time for a change.
“I think my chairman of the board recognized that I was moving closer to a split board. I was the first full-time president and, after evaluating that, I think the league looked at a different structure and focus and I’m fine with that.”
Thirty years ago, the AJHL had only eight teams, but now there’s 16. I’ve long wondered if the talent pool is deep enough to sustain that many teams. I asked Cripps about the possibility of contraction, which happened recently in Ontario.
“After being president for seven years and looking at the league with 16 teams, I still think that there could be some contraction. Why do we have two teams in Calgary? Why don’t the two teams get together and make one powerhouse team. There are many people who would say all of a sudden you are taking away 23 spots from junior A in Alberta, but I don’t think that is a big issue. Those players will find a place to play,” he said.
“There are also some other communities that we are in that aren’t perfect hockey communities. In short, I think the league would be better operating with 14 teams.”
Cripps said there are AJHL governors who believe the league would be stronger with fewer teams and a better product on the ice.
“Certainly from an economic standpoint, it might allow the league to shorten the schedule to help teams save money from a travel perspective,” he added.
Wood acknowledged finances would play a big role in any decision involving contraction. But he also said “there is no league direction to try and undertake that right now.”
These tough decisions will now fall on Bartoshyk. He’s been involved in the AJHL since 2006 and Wood is confident he is the right guy to move the league forward.
“Craig was hired to re-brand the league and did an excellent job. It was time to look at what are we doing moving forward and what skill set we need from our commissioner. We needed Craig to look outward to get our league recognized and he did that well, but now it is time to look inward and figure out how we keep the small market and big market teams viable,” Wood said.
“Ryan knows the league and knows everyone in it and he has the skill set to accomplish what we need to achieve over the next five to 10 years.”
The AJHL is a great league and it will be interesting to see which path Bartoshyk leads them down.
You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the TEAM 1260 and read him at oilersnation.com.
On Twitter: @jasongregor
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