An apparent non-sanctioned hockey league operating out of Southern California is reportedly poaching players from the Northwest Junior Hockey League (NWJHL).
Teams from California's Junior B level Western States Hockey League (WSHL), have recruited three NWJHL players - two from the Grande Prairie Kings and one from the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks.
NWJHL president Al Spence, who asked that the player's names not be published, says that the so-called 'outlaw league' has no governing rules and is not registered with Hockey USA or Hockey Canada and, therefore, "tampers with teams' players when and wherever they want to."
Spence told the Dawson Creek Daily News in an email that the league has targeted the NWJHL's top players and nothing can be done to prevent players from accepting offers.
The Kings, who lead the NWJHL with a 27-3-0-0 record, lost one of their top scorers as well as a defenceman to the WSHL's Bay Area Seals; and the Canucks lost a forward to the Ontario Avalanche after having just acquired the player in December.
"The players are assets to each team and the teams have made a large time investment to those players to become the best they can be," said Spence. "So realistically it's our teams' loss and possibly the end of the players hockey career to go chase after this outlaw league.
"They [outlaw league teams] phone players up and promise big things to quit their respective teams to come and play [in their league]," said Spence. "What they probably don't tell them is that it is an outlaw league and explain the consequences."
According to Hockey Canada's policy on outlaw leagues, players that leave a team are suspended from the league in question for the remainder of the season and lose all Hockey Canada privileges after playing one game in an outlaw league. Furthermore, suspensions are upheld if the league or team folds or the individual is released or suspended.
In addition, the policy, which was posted on the NWJHL website, states that outlaw leagues undermine Hockey Canada's "committed strategy toward a cohesive long term athlete development model."
Spence says players are recruited with the promise of school scholarships, free billeting, free equipment and "a chance to be scouted to pro hockey."
According to a report on JuniorHockey.com, Kings' personnel was upset over their players being recruited after the NWJHL's deadline to add players had passed and just before playoffs.
Seals' management said they didn't care and it's the players' choice if they want better exposure. Meanwhile, WSHL commissioner Tom White admitted that teams shouldn't be tampering with other club's active rosters but that he has no authority over the acquisition as a result of his league having no roster protection agreement with Hockey Canada or the NWJHL.
Canucks head coach Eric Fulton said the matter is out of his control but would like to see leagues such as the WSHL play by the same rules as others.
"I don't have a whole lot of negativity towards it, they're giving more kids places to play hockey," he said. "I just wish they would honour the rules that everybody else lives by, but that's up to them."