As the Memorial Cup opens once more, a quick look at the qualifying teams gives me some concern. All three league champions, the ‘QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, Ontario’s London Knights and the Western League’s Portland Winterhawks, and numerous teams that were successful this year such as the Quebec Remparts, Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Hitmen represent big cities within junior hockey. Should this be a concern and do small market teams even have a shot at junior success? Over the next few weeks, I intend to find out.
This question has been bugging me for a while. My hypothesis is that teams in bigger cities have more resources to devote to attracting players, offering better health and fitness services, ensuring easier travel and getting the best coaching staff. Together, this makes it possible for them to reach the top of their leagues year after year creating a cycle that puts teams from smaller cities at a permanent disadvantage. While it is not impossible for small market teams to have success and success is not guaranteed for big city teams, I think there is a relationship that goes beyond mere chance. In order to test this hypothesis, I’ll have to dig deep and go back to my high school and university math to see if there is something to this. As far as I know, teams don’t generally publish information like profit margins and revenues, so I’ll find to find information another way.
But how could that happen, that teams in smaller towns be at a disadvantage? After all, they represent a majority of teams in the CHL. It would be a concern to all three leagues if it is the case. Each team, though, has access to the same players, the same drafts. They play by the same rules in game and a lot has been done to punish teams like Portland and Windsor that have stepped outside the bounds to get players into their dressing rooms. Yet, can more be done if there is indeed a problem?
To study this question, I will take a look at teams’ results over the past 10 years to look at trends and evaluate the correlation, if any, between city/region sizes, their support of junior hockey and results. Success will be evaluated based on the number of Memorial Cups, league championships won and playoff rounds won as well as the number of times the team has made the playoffs. To determine the size of regions and the support of teams, appropriate statistical information will be used when available. It is unfair to assume that all teams in big cities have access to more resources because of a phenomenon common in junior hockey: when the team is not the highest level of hockey in town, it does not necessarily attract as much attention and support. Junior hockey teams trying to establish themselves in the Toronto and Montreal regions have felt this consistently for many years and there was a time when Ottawa risked losing its junior team as well.
I hope to publish my research results and methodology near the end of this year’s Memorial Cup. I’m not trying to shake up junior hockey but I would like to see a little bit more parity and some other teams get a real chance to go all the way.