The Mississauga Hockey League (MHL) consists of eight associations, 422 teams, 1,500 volunteers and officials, and 19,000 parents and family members. This league has gone through ups and downs, but it has a long history of bringing the magic of hockey to families all across the City of Mississauga. The MHL was composed of only 50 teams in 1950.
In this, the 70th season of the MHL, four organizations have merged to become two. Names, jerseys and players have all been meshed together to form teams that are greater in number while also containing the history from the roots of the individual teams.
The Cooksville Phantoms and the Credit Valley Wolves have now become the Phantom Wolves, and the Lorne Park Ojibwa have come together with the Clarkson Hurricanes to become the Lorne Park Clarkson (LPC) Wild.
“There was no fighting, there was no bickering, everything was done for the sake of the kids - that’s our policy, plain and simple. That’s what I’ve made clear from day one,” said Mike Doyle, former president of both Lorne Park and Clarkson hockey associations.
“The MHL is a fantastic league. I believe it’s one of the best leagues for kids in the country. I think we are very unique where we have this system of our red, white, blue, plus our rep programs,” said Doyle.
The colours that Doyle is describing are different levels of play. Green, blue, white, red are the MHL tiers of hockey skill sets in order from lowest to highest. Independent of these skill levels are age levels. This means that no matter the talent level, no matter the age, there will be a team on which any given child and family will feel welcome.
Jeff Leavens is the Executive Director of the MHL and he says that fun and fair play are what hockey is all about.
“You try to put red players with red players and so on. Smaller associations don’t have that luxury because they just don’t have the numbers of kids to do it. You end up with what we call Smartie teams with different colour players on the teams and you don’t have anywhere to convene them,” said Leavens.
The key to keeping hockey fun is having fair and competitive games.. Every child should have similar ice times and chances to participate.
The biggest challenge that the MHL faces is bringing hockey to families unfamiliar with the game. The time for outdoor rinks and street hockey has moved to video games and Netflix shows. Hockey isn’t on the radar of hobbies compared to what it used to be. Along with the barrier of time, the barrier of cost is also a reality. Luckily the MHL has some help in this regard.
First Shift is a program carried out by Bauer, Hockey Canada, and Canadian Tire, teaming up to introduce the great game of hockey to as many families as possible. They provide head-to-toe equipment and six weeks of on-ice practice to kids so they can decide whether or not hockey is something they love.
“There is a little trepidation on everyone’s part to get involved for a full season with the investment in the equipment and so-on,” said Leavens, adding, “If you have hockey players in your family, you know what you’re up against.”
Another huge concern with hockey is safety. The MHL is a sport-wide leader in disciplinary emphasis. They have rules and protocols that even the NHL has yet to latch onto. Safety is something not taken lightly by this league.
“For five years now we’ve been working with the associations, and with the coaches and the teams,” said Leavens. He says they have been sending referee supervisors to team practices to discuss specifics of what the officials do not want to see in a game, and ultimately how to stay out of the penalty box.
Leavens added, “The relationship between the players and the coaches and the referees has been strengthened.”
Hockey develops many on-ice characteristics that are transferable off-ice as well. Things like teamwork, work ethic, physical health, awareness, and many others are just a short list of traits that improve everyday life. These team mergers are a sliver of proof that hockey is in good hands in Mississauga with the MHL.