Chris St-Pierre

For The Community Press

KAPUSKASING – The Timmins Minor Hockey Association has announced that it was cancelling it’s AAA program for the upcoming season in order to focus on it’s AA. This decision might be to the advantage of the embryonic competitive Bantam program that reaches across Highway 11, which struggled to keep local talent during it’s initial year.

The Kap-Hearst Regional Express Bantam BB could now find itself with several new players next autumn. During it’s first year of existence, at least ten players from the area decided to join the Timmins North Stars rather than suit up for the brand new Express. According to founding committee member, Sébastien Lessard, the cuts made by the TMHA could greatly affect the program’s next season.

“The cancellation of the (AAA) program has a huge impact because now these ten players will probably try to make the Regional Express roster. Obviously, that lifts up the quality and the potential of the team,” he explains. “It’s good to bring back players to a level that is more appropriate for their development according to their skill level.”

Even if they tried, the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock saw its best one-year proposal thrown out by the TMHA. That is despite having the support of the league’s commissioner, Rob Mazzuca, Cochrane Crunch owner Ryan Leonard and several other northern teams such as the Hearst Lumberjacks and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.

On his end, Lessard sees this as an opportunity for the Express to grow its development program for the elite level players from the corridor.

“Instead of sending kids to a AAA program that doesn’t necessarily function properly, now we have a chance to show off a regional program in Hearst and Kapuskasing that could greatly enhance the chances of players making it on a Midget AAA team.”

In Timmins, the marital dispute between the Rock and the association is ongoing despite the TMHA’s best attempts at closing the discussion. Contrastingly, the idea of a potential collaboration between the Regional Express and a Junior A team such as the Hearst Lumberjacks or the Cochrane Crunch isn’t out of the question.

“The player pools are dwindling in the area and I think higher status teams are looking towards local talent to fill seats,” says Lessard. “It starts with the (Kapuskasing) Flyers, then continues with the (Hearst) Lumberjacks and the (Cochrane) Crunch. I only see working together to setup a development program as a benefit. We have people that are invested, we have organizations that may have funds or personnel to offer. Coaching minor hockey is pretty hard. It’s even harder to develop a hockey program that allows those elite players to keep progressing. If we have help from those Junior A or Midget AAA teams, and they have an interest in being hands on, I believe we as an association need to be open to their participation and even more so in regards to what the bring to the table.”

As for autumn preparations, the Express has begun its interview process this week in order to fill roles behind the bench after sending out a request for resumes on April 22nd. The Express would like to take the time to thank those involved in coaching and managing the team during it’s first year as they faced the unknown while trying to lay the foundation for year two.