Assessing the CHLPA

Gaels’ ex-OHLers address goals of junior hockey players’ union

Queen’s men’s hockey captain Corey Bureau (14) played for the OHL’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors from 2007-11.
Queen’s men’s hockey captain Corey Bureau (14) played for the OHL’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors from 2007-11.

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) has been Canada’s stepping stone for junior hockey players looking to play professionally for 37 years.

In September, the CHL Players Association (CHLPA) acted as a proposed labour union for the CHL and its three constituent leagues: the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

The proposed union sought to protect junior hockey players, making several claims about the state of the CHL.

Namely, the union sought to abolish the 12–18 month time limit a player has to utilize the current scholarship packages offered by the three leagues, making them available for up to four years.

The CHLPA also accused the league of having its players working under “sweatshop conditions” for minimal pay, while club owners rake in revenue.

Among former CHL players currently on the Queen’s men’s hockey team are second-year team captain Corey Bureau and third year defenceman Patrick McEachen.

Both are products of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors in the OHL. McEachen played one year, while Bureau played three full seasons.

During their time in the CHL, they worked full-time hours (10-4:30 daily) with an average weekly pay of $50.

Both players sat down to talk with the Journal about the value of the CHLPA’s efforts.

What are the differences between Junior A and Major Junior?

McEachen: There’s a pretty wide gap in skill difference. I think the biggest thing is the OHL is basically pro hockey. Players are paid, there’s sold out rinks, everything is paid for, you travel like a pro team, pro scouts are always at every game. It’s huge step up, especially from Ontario junior, which isn’t a huge deal. That’s the biggest difference: everything is much more professional [in the OHL]. It’s a lot smaller stage in Ontario Junior hockey.

Do you think the 18-month OHL scholarship rule needs to be changed?

McEachen: Not really, no. The amount of guys that have already played two years pro that actually want to go back to school is very small. I can’t think of many guys that do.

Bureau: In my contract, I did get it modified so that rule was a little extended, but even with that it wouldn’t have made a difference. I think for most guys it doesn’t make a difference.

Taylor Hall defended the efforts of the union, saying that the players aren’t getting paid very much while the owners are making lots. Do you see where he’s coming from?

McEachen: I don’t think anyone’s ever thought of it until this CHLPA thing came about. This is definitely going to raise a lot of eyes.

Bureau: Talking to people who played in the league 15, 20 years ago, they were making the same amount. If you look at how much some of the owners are making — like teams that sell out every game — it seems ridiculous that this $50 thing is still around. I was never one to complain — I was just happy to be there.

The union accused the OHL of making players work in “sweatshop conditions.” What do you think of that statement?

Bureau: That’s a little overboard. Usually we were treated pretty well anywhere we went. We were there voluntarily — it’s not like we were being forced to play hockey. I don’t think that argument really has any validity.

What percentage of OHL players are there for the experience, and how many are there to move on to a higher level?

McEachen: Everyone goes there with the intent of going pro. I don’t think it’s by choice that you don’t get drafted — everyone’s aiming for it. Only a select few actually make it all the way. In my last year, the number of guys who knew they would be in the AHL was maybe five at the most. In Junior A, it’s maybe half and half [between players who go to NCAA and move up to CHL].

Bureau: Everyone plays just to have fun, but I think at the same time every guy in the back of their mind has a goal. The amount of guys who actually know that “after this year I’m going to be in the AHL or something” is pretty slim.

Do you guys agree or disagree with the goals of the CHLPA?

Bureau: I agree with it. I think there are a lot of variables to account for when setting it up, like sponsorship and what they’re actually trying to accomplish.

McEachen: There would have to some sort of system in place where the teams that make a lot of money pay larger amounts into the pool that pays the players, and the other teams would pay a smaller amount. Otherwise you would lose a lot of teams.

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