Monday , 28 November 2022

Cold Lake Aeros and member teams leave WSHL to start new league

The Cold Lake Aeros along with five other Canadian and American franchises announced they are forming a new non-sanctioned league and are leaving the Western States Hockey League behind. 

In a press release dated on Jan. 4, the statement released by the Cold Lake Aeros, Barrhead Bombers, Vegreville Vipers, Edmonton Eagles, Hinton Timberwolves, and Vernal Oilers said the teams have agreed to establish a new league called the Can-Am Junior Hockey League, effective immediately. 

The release continues by stating the formation of the new league comes at a time when “a change in leadership and direction was needed.” 

Axel Axmann is the owner of the Cold Lake Aeros who are in their first year in Cold Lake, and relocated from Edson last summer. The team was first place and won all their games at the WSHL Showcase. 

When asked the reasoning of leaving the WSHL, he said he wouldn’t go into specifics, but that the recent Showcase, hosted in Las Vegas, Nevada in December was the “final straw.” 

“We feel that there was a number of unfulfilled promises made by the WSHL. And really, to go into specifics wouldn’t be very fair. But, there was lots of talk about what was going to happen and things that were going to take place, and they just never seemed to materialize. And then all sudden, we had teams falling out and dropping off,” said Axmann. 

“I guess the final straw was kind of what our showcase looked like in Las Vegas. And it was a very expensive trip for us.”

The showcase is promoted as a marquee event for the league, where each team descends to Las Vegas and plays games at a central location to show off players to NCAA Div. II-III, ACHA Div1-3, and CIAU schools. In year’s past, Axmann said the facility was packed with scouts. 

“There was a no-show of scouts or coaches of universities and colleges that were there. From what I saw, there were actually only two physical scouts there. We were told that 62 scouts had joined us virtually by way of BlackDog television, because they had been given access. But we didn’t see any scouting packages there. There was no advertising in arena for universities attending, there wasn’t even so much as swag,” he said. 

“It kind of felt like you’re going to a minor hockey tournament.” 

‘Keep using the existing schedule’

The league has been struggling to stay afloat with a few franchises folding during this season already. The WSHL was restarting operations after cancelling the 2020-21 season, and tail end of the 2019-20 season. 

Requests for comment to WSHL contacts were not returned. 

Moving forward, Axmann said the CAJHL will essentially continue where the WSHL left off. The standings will remain the same and the schedule will largely remain in tact as well. 

“In general, we’re just gonna keep using the existing schedule that we already had in place,” said Axmann. 

“There’s some other things that we have to get in order by making this move and that’s to ensure the safety of our players by having insurance in place and things like that.”

Axmann said the Vernal Oilers were going to be crossing the border to play the Aeros on Wednesday. 

Cold Lake has been home to two other teams in this league in the past four years in the Hornets and Wings. Axmann said the community has been welcoming. 

“The welcome that we have received by the City of Cold Lake has been nothing short of phenomenal. When we made the decision to make a move and Mayor Copeland had reached out, we had reached out and we had talked to one another. We virtually had an agreement in place with him and CAO Kevin Nagoya, within about 15 minutes over a lunch, and they very, very supportive.”

“Attendance has been a bit of a struggle. And I think the COVID plays a part with that. And I understand that, and we knew that there were some relationships that have to be repaired as a result of the previous teams that were there. My wife and I have made a commitment to the community.”

Rocky end

The Aeros had a rocky end to their tenure in Edson. The Edson Aeros former coach Bernie Lynch was accused of misconduct and a complaint was filed to the Edson RCMP prompting an investigation into the matter in March 2020. 

Edson RCMP confirmed to Lakeland Connect that the investigation is “inactive” due to no other leads, but could re-opened if new evidence is brought forward. 

Lynch was suspended from the Fort Frances Lakers of the SIJHL in early 2021 for “inappropriate” text messages sent to a player. Most recently, Lynch was charged with assault and sexual assault in April 2021, following a complaint from a former play in Regina dating back to August 1988.  

“Don’t misunderstand me, if Bernie Lynch had done something in the past, we didn’t know about it,” said Axmann. 

“And there was nothing in his professional background that would have precluded him from coaching. He had a clean criminal records check. There was nothing there. And he had coached a number of teams before he ever talked to us. If he did something wrong when he was in Ontario after he left us, that’s on him.”

Excited for the future

Turning the page into 2022, the Aeros are hoping to soar off and have fans come out as well.

“We’re very excited about our team, we have a good team. If people haven’t come to see us play, they really should because the calibre is strong. And we’ve got a pretty strong winning record. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season here. Our goal is to win the league championship. And we’re excited about what the future holds…I think there’s bigger and better things to come for the CAJHL and we’re just excited about that.”

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.