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Newfoundland senior hockey: ECSHL set to operate in 2019-20

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League reaches a deal that brings CeeBees into the fold

It looks like the East Coast Senior Hockey League is expanding instead of blowing up.

Details are still to come, but the ECSHL has hammered out the framework of an arrangement that will make the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars part of the circuit’s third season.

Ivan Hapgood, general manager of the ECSHL’s Clarenviille Caribous said in a post on the team’s Facebook site Friday that the now six-team league will begin its 2019-20 reglar-season schedule next weekend, with the first games Nov. 15.

That the CeeBees will be a cog in an operating ECSHL isn’t that big a surprise, because the circuit’s existence as a senior hockey league sanctioned by Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador and Hockey Canada was pretty much dependant on acceptance of the CeeBees.

Earlier this year, the league had rejected an application from the CBN club, but Hockey NL later ruled that unless the ECSHL took in the CeeBees, it would not sanction the league, meaning that, among other things, its teams wouldn’t be able compete for the Herder Memorial Trophy and provincial senior hockey championship.

The ECSHL appealed that decision to Hockey Canada, but that national body ruled in favour of HNL, a finding that led to negotiations between the CeeBees and five existing teams — the Caribous, Conception Bay Blues, Northeast Eagles, St. John’s Caps and Southern Shore Breakers. Those talks were centred around, among other things, team rights to certain players.

The CeeBees and four of the five ECSHL clubs — Blues, Eagles, Caps and Breakers — once made up the Avalon East Senior Hockey League, but a falling out, largely based on claims the CeeBees were compensating players contrary to league guidelines, led to the other four scuttling the AESHL and reforming as the East Coast league in 2017.

The ECSHL was originally scheduled to begin its 2019-20 season on the last weekend of October, but the tentative start date had been pushed forward on a couple of occasions as talks with the CeeBees continued.

Also to be considered are the defending Herder champion Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and Gander Flyers, who officially are a two-team Central West Senior Hockey League. Last season, the Cataracts and Flyers needed interlocking games with ECSHL clubs to fill out their schedules, but any renewal of that arrangement was impossible while there were questions surrounding the east league’s future.

Indications of the ECSHL’s intentions to operate came earlier this week, when the five existing teams conducted a pre-season player draft while talks with the CeeBees continued. The draft saw defenceman and Mount Pearl native Patrick O’Keefe taken first overall by the Caps, with 15 players selected overall.

sports@thetelegram.com

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