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Newmarket team among 9 in newly launched Ontario Jr. A Super League

'... you get this flurry of 16 and 17-year-olds who throw their gear in the garage and walk away from it. There is a model here where they are underserviced, so we are trying to bridge the gap for those kids,' says league president

With the wounds from the departure of the Newmarket Hurricanes still fresh in local hockey fans' minds, Hayden Stewart knows that he has a lot to prove. But he is confident that his new team, the Newmarket Monarchs, will be an excellent addition to the local sports scene for years to come. 

As the Monarchs general manager and head coach, Stewart, 25, has effectively been tasked with building the team from the ground up. As a former minor league hockey player, scout for the Aurora Tigers, and registration administrator for the Barrie Minor Hockey League Association, he said he has the experience required to get the Monarchs off the ground.

While the Hurricanes were a Junior A team with the Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Monarchs are part of a brand new league called the Ontario Jr. A Super League.

"It has been difficult, but I am starting to speak with people, so they get more comfortable knowing who I am," Stewart said. "I had a choice of where I wanted to put my team when I came on board. My grandparents and dad are from the Newmarket area, so I always felt I had ties there. It had the Saints and the Hurricanes ... so it's a town that can maintain a Junior A team."

So far, Stewart has put out a call for volunteer coaching staff — most positions have been filled — and tryouts are underway. 

It's so new, in fact, that the league has justed launched its website, and its Facebook page only has posts going back to Oct. 13. The league is not sanctioned by Hockey Canada. 

As a result, the local hockey community has greeted the league's intention to bring a team to Newmarket with some skepticism.  

The president of the Newmarket Minor Hockey Associatino, Lynda Carusi, told NewmarketToday she doesn't know what to make of the Monarchs or the Ontario Junior A Super League, having only learned about the league's existence recently.

"I'm not sure where their players are going to go; they won't be able to have a draft with no Hockey Canada sanction," she said.

According to Stewart, some social media users have accused the team of taking advantage of the lull in minor league hockey due to the pandemic, or said it's some kind of money-making scheme. He responded by issuing a statement on behalf of the team asking people to stop.

The Ontario Junior A Super League and its nine teams — all located in the Greater Toronto Area, including Vaughan, Mississauga, Oakville, Etobicoke, Toronto and Barrie — are owned by its president and CEO, Dwayne McKillop, as well as a group of investors. McKillop also owns a company called Continuum Productions, which specializes in organizing events such as large trade shows. 

In an interview with NewmarketToday, McKillop explained the league has been in the works for some time, with the intention of launching next hockey season. But with the pandemic causing other hockey programs to be postponed or cancelled, they was felt that now was a good time to try to fill the void.

That said, McKillop argued that they are not a "COVID league," as some critics have claimed. 

The league's goals, said McKillop, is to become a free-to-play league within three years and an affordable option for families. And to be a place where young players who are not at the top of their levels can develop skills and build a profile for scouts from university teams or other leagues.

"There are kids who are in Minor Midget hockey, usually at the AAA level, who get drafted lower in the Ontario Hockey League draft or don't get drafted at all but are still fantastic hockey players. They really only have three paths to take: they can head back and try to skate for a spot on a Midget AAA team, take a shot at the Midget OHL draft and get walked on as an unsigned draftee, or take a developmental year and go through the exact same process all over again," explained McKillop.

"The scary thing is a lot of those kids quit. They play their whole life to get to Minor Midget, and you get this flurry of 16 and 17-year-olds who throw their gear in the garage and walk away from it. There is a model here where they are underserviced, so we are trying to bridge the gap for those kids." 

McKillop said he wants the new league to be sanctioned by Hockey Canada but believes that can happen once they can demonstrate the goals for their players. For now, he's not concerned about drafts as the main focus is to help players reach the skill level and have the stats and clips required to show to university scouts. 

The plan is to have the Monarchs begin their first season sometime next month, but there may be no home games for local fans to watch. According to McKillop, the plan is to choose a hub city in the GTA where all the games will be played on weekends. The league is not ready to announce which town or city 000that will be.

Every COVID-19 precaution will be taken to make sure the games will be as safe as possible, said McKillop.

As for the doubters, both McKillop and Stewart said they intend to prove them all wrong. 

"There are always people who think we are looking for an angle. They say 'come on, what are you really doing here? You actually don't want kids to pay for hockey?' But that's really as simple as it is," said McKillop. 

"When I was a kid, and you made a Jr. A team, you didn't pay. So it's not like this hasn't been done before. We want to get back to that."