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Could an MJHL team come to Grand Forks?

Could a Manitoba Junior Hockey League team be coming to Grand Forks?

The Winnipeg-based junior league has drawn up a memorandum of understanding and a final proposal for a Grand Forks group, outlining what needs to be done to for the city to have an expansion team in place by the fall of 2019.

The seven-page document was sent last month and recently obtained by the Herald.

Because the proposal says that neither party is to make public statements about the potential of a franchise until an agreement is in place, MJHL commissioner Kim Davis spoke only in generalities when reached by the Herald.

“At this point in time, we don’t have any applications for next year,” Davis said.

The proposal states that the MJHL desires to have any potential purchase agreement signed by the end of February, though Davis indicated there’s no hard deadline for applications. The MJHL does its scheduling in early June.

Any application would have to be approved by the league’s board.

The biggest hurdle for the Grand Forks Hockey Club -- as it’s called in the documents -- will be financially.

The league’s entry fee is $150,000 Canadian, which is roughly $113,000 American. It also requires a $25,000 Canadian bond payment upon entry. The Grand Forks Hockey Club would also have to raise additional money for operating expenses and to pay full-time staff members.

The document does not state where games would be played, but the expectation is Purpur Arena. A signed lease agreement is required for league membership.

The Grand Forks team would be primarily made up of players from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Colorado. At least 17 skaters and two goalies would have to come from those states, according to the proposal.

The team also would be permitted to carry four Canadian “import players” on the roster. It would not be permitted to have European players.

The Grand Forks team would only be able to have two 16-year-old players on the roster. Currently, Americans under the age of 18 are not allowed in the MJHL, but that would not be the case for the Grand Forks team.

The MJHL has 11 teams. All of them are based in Manitoba: Dauphin, Neepawa, The Pas, Portage la Prairie, Selkirk, Steinbach, Swan River, Virden, Waywayseecappo, Winkler and Winnipeg.

While Manitoba does not have any teams outside of the province, four of the other 10 Canadian Junior A leagues have expanded to United States markets.

The British Columbia Hockey League has a team in Wenatchee, Wash. The Superior International Junior Hockey League has teams in Thief River Falls and Hoyt Lakes, Minn. The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League has a team in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. And the Ontario Junior Hockey League has a team in Buffalo.

UND has recruited a few players from the MJHL in recent years.

Current forwards Cole Smith and Jackson Keane played there. Other recent UND players from the MJHL include Bryn Chyzyk, Jason Gregoire, Brent Davidson, Brendan O’Donnell and former captain Stephane Pattyn. A UND recruit, forward Riese Gaber, also played in the MJHL.

Three Grand Forks Central graduates are currently in the league. Cam Olstad plays for Neepawa, Hunter Moreland plays for OCN (The Pas) and Collin Caulfield plays for Winkler.

This isn’t the first attempt to bring a new hockey team to Grand Forks. There have been several attempts to start a midget major hockey team -- notably by Ralph Engelstad Arena’s Hockey Academy. They developed a team that played in the preseason but never one for a full regular season.

Attempts to bring midget or junior teams to Grand Forks have been met by resistance from high school hockey proponents, who believe a junior team would take some of the top players out of the North Dakota prep ranks.

Others argue that those players, like former Grand Forks Red River stars Jackson Kunz (Shattuck-St. Mary’s) and Dane Montgomery (Sioux Falls U16), are leaving, anyway, and this could potentially keep them in Grand Forks.

Three North Dakota cities currently have junior hockey teams.

Fargo has a team in the Tier I United States Hockey League, while Bismarck and Minot have teams in the Tier II North American Hockey League.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 14th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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