Cole MacLaren Signs With Tigers

Maclaren playing for the Morell Chevies of the Kings County Baseball League in 2017 (courtesy of the Journal Pioneer).

Cole MacLaren, a catcher from Morell, Prince Edward Island has signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers organization. Maclaren, who recently completed his senior season at the University of Pittsburgh went undrafted in this month’s First Year Player Draft.

This past season he hit .247 with seven doubles and three home runs for the Panthers. He is a product of the Okotoks Dawgs Baseball Academy in Alberta. MacLaren played his first two seasons of college baseball with Colby Community College in Kansas before joining Pittsburgh for the past two seasons.

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Alex Lawrie, Professional Umpire


Jake Sanford isn’t the only Nova Scotian in professional baseball this season (courtesy Sports and Moore YouTube).

Just to give a quick shoutout to Mineville’s Alex Lawrie who this week started his professional umpiring career in the Gulf Coast League.  Lawrie earned his spot in pro ball by completing the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy this past winter.  Only 20% of academy students are hired by Minor League Baseball.  He becomes the first Nova Scotian to umpire professional baseball since Troy Blades (Clark’s Harbour) left the International League at the end of the 2002 season.

Lawrie started umpiring minor baseball at the age of 13.  He was umpiring in the Nova Scotia Senior League by the time he was 18.  He also umpired in the independent Can-Am League the last two summers.  The process to get to the Majors is even longer and more drawn out than it is for players.  The umps continue up the ranks level by level and cannot skip a level in the minors.  They spend a season at one level and if their performance is good enough, their promoted to the next one the following summer.  It can take up to ten years to reach the Major Leagues.  Lawrie is quoted, “They say it’s the longest job interview in the world”.  He is not kidding.

Fredericton’s Matt Whipple umpired in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 and in the New York Penn League last year.

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The Time the Windjammers Played in the Playoffs


With the Toronto Raptors playing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and leading the series 2-1, the whole country is talking about basketball.  Today, I am going to tell the story of the only time the Halifax Windjammers played postseason basketball.  You might be thinking, hey the Windjammers never made the playoffs in their history.  The team’s Wikipedia entry shows that they missed the playoffs in 1991 (their first in the World Basketball League), the WBL folded on August 1, 1992 so there were no playoffs.  The team would join the new National Basketball League for 1993, but also missed the playoffs.  The team would be in first place in the NBL during the 1994 season, but the league would fold on July 9 of that year.  Like the WBL of two years prior, there would be no playoffs.  But, what if I told you the Windjammers played playoff basketball in August of 1992?  On the surface that would make no sense since the league they were in folded on the first of the month.

The Lead-Up to the Playoffs

The crazy thing is, there was a short lived league in August of 1992, one of the shortest lived sports leagues to actually play a game.  Not only that this league had no regular season, the four member clubs would go straight to the postseason.  Let me introduce you to the North American Basketball Association.  The NABA rose from the ashes of the newly defunct WBL.  The WBL folded on August 1, 1992 after the first place Dayton Wings folded due to a dispute with the league.  The WBL (which owned 60% of all franchises, save for Winnipeg) were not meeting their financial obligations to the club.  The team was also concerns with teams not showing up to games until the last minute (due to players not being paid).  There were also concerns the referees would boycott over lack of payments.  That left the league with just six teams and league founder Mickey Monus (who had problems of his own) decided to pull the pug on the remainder of the season.  The surviving six were the Calgary 88’s, Halifax Windjammers, Hamilton Skyhawks, Saskatchewan Storm, Winnipeg Thunder and Youngstown Pride.

Before folding, there was talk the league was going to suspend their regular season and immediately go to the playoffs.  There were plans of holding two, three team round robin tournaments (beginning August 10) with the winners of each qualifying for a championship series.  These tournaments would have been played in Halifax and Winnipeg, the two most financially successful teams.  The league wasn’t interested in this and planned on continuing with the regular season which was scheduled to conclude on August 20, with playoffs starting August 22.  They would change their mind and fold the league days later.  The final Windjammers game, as members of the WBL, was an exhibition game against the Marathon Oil All-Stars.  This game replaced a previously scheduled game against Jacksonville which was canceled with the later folded.  Dayton was the fourth WBL team to fold that season.

Going into an August 4 press conference there was talk the five Canadian teams (Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, Saskatchewan & Winnipeg) would finish off their seasons against each other.  There was also talk that the recently defunct Dayton Wings would join them.  Rumours about this ranged from finishing the season under a revised schedule, going straight to the playoffs, or just playing a series of exhibitions against each other.  There was also talk of the Canadian teams breaking away and forming their own league the following season (spoiler alert: that would actually happen in the form of the National Basketball League).  As we know, there was a Canadian league in 1993 but that doesn’t answer the question, how did the ‘Jammers play in the 1992 playoffs?

At that August 4 press conference it was revealed that three of the surviving six teams, along with the defending champion & first place Dayton Wings would play a revised four team playoff to determine a champion.  It was announced that beginning August 6, there would be two best of five semifinals.  The matchups were Dayton vs. Winnipeg and Calgary vs. Halifax with all games being held in Winnipeg and Halifax.  The two host teams paid all expenses for their visitors (hotels, meals, salaries, travel, etc.).  These matchups were based on the final WBL standings.  The Wings were the first seed while there opponents were the fourth seed.  The 88’s and Windjammers finished second and third respectively.  Strangely, the lower seeds were given home court advance for the entire series.  Again, this was based on finances, not on records.  The finals would also be a best of five series.  For the finals, all games would be in Winnipeg if they played Calgary and all games would be in Halifax if the Windjammers had played the Wings.  If the finals were Halifax vs. Winnipeg, the series wold be split between the two cities.  Nothing was said about the possibility of a Dayton vs. Calgary final.  Hamilton and Saskatchewan choose to sit out the playoffs with the hopes of joining an all-Canadian league in 1993.  Youngstown, who finished the WBL season in third place chose to fold instead of continuing.

In the meantime, the four playoff teams committed a total of $100,000 to stage a tournament to determine a champion for the season.  Since they didn’t own any trademarks of the WBL they had to use another name.  As alluded to earlier, they went by the name North American Basketball Association for the playoffs.  The teams would also added some investors to help out as the league owned 60% of the franchises when they were in the WBL.

The Playoffs

The Windjammers would win game one of their semifinal series against the 88’s.  The final score was 128-112, with Keith Smart scoring 23 points and 8 rebounds.  Mack Joyner had 27 points and a game high 13 rebounds.  Former NBA player Jim Thomas would score 24 points for Calgary.  The team wore their away jerseys for the game.  In a uni-watch moment (before there was an acutal Uni-Watch) the game report notes the Windjammers removed the WBL crests from their uniforms and Calgary did not.  The attendance was 4078, far short of the 6000 or so the team needed to average to break even for the NABA playoffs.  That same night, the Wings beat the Thunder in a wild one, 136-130 at Winnipeg Arena to take a 1-0 lead in that series.

The next night, the 88’s tied the series at 1-1 following a 129-108 victory.  Jerry Stroman had a game high 34 points for Calgary.  Roland Gary had 22 points and 9 rounds for the 88’s.  Louis Banks lead the Windjammers with 26 points, while Keith Smart and James Anderson had 16 and 13 points each.  The game was played in front of a crowd of 3687.  This was a concern as the team needed more fans to make ends meet as they were paying all expenses for both teams.  Attendance was also a concern in Winnipeg, where they drew only 4500-ish fans to game one against Dayton.  Low attendance was also a concern going forward as the NBL was still in its playing stages and wanted to included the former WBL clubs.

Game three (on August 9) was more bad news for the Windjammers as they lost to the 88’s again, this time by a 120-102 score.  Halifax actually held the lead at halftime 56-52 but it was all Calgary in the second half.  The bad news extended to the box office as game three only drew 3325 fans, continuing the downward trend and falling far short of what they needed.  Mack Joyner would score 22 points for the ‘Jammers and Keith Smart would contribute 16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals.  For Calgary Stroman and Chip Englelland would score 20 points each.  Future Toronto Raptor Chris Childs would have a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

The Calgary 88’s would take game four and the series with a 115-104 victory on August 11.  Like in game three, the Windjammers held the lead at halftime (61-56) but Calgary would comeback to win.  Halifax’s leading scorer was A.J. Wynder with 26 points, followed by Mike Ratliff with 24.  Calgary was lead by again by Jerry Stroman, with 28 points.  Attendance did pick up on this night, with a series high crowd of 4181 in the Metro Centre stands.  Counting the playoffs, Calgary would go 7-2 against Halifax in 1992.  With their elimination from the NABA playoffs, the Windjammers future reminded uncertain for the following year.  Despite winning the series, the 88’s future was just as uncertain as there would be no guarantee the North American Basketball Association would play a final series.

The problem was, the Dayton Wings were up 2-0 in their semifinal series in Winnipeg.  As mentioned earlier, both the Wings and 88’s were homeless and it was uncertain what would happen if both teams won their semifinal series.  It was not a surprise that this happened as Dayton and Calgary were the two higher seeds (finishing first and second respectively) despite being on the road for the postseason.  There was talk that Winnipeg would host the series in this event but no official word either way.  On August 18, the newly formed NABA canceled their championship series and many Calgary players balked at the money involved.  They felt it was better for them to go home early than play the final series.  This means the Halifax Rainmen’s forfeit of game seven of the 2015 NBL Finals was the second time in Canadian basketball history a team forfeited away a championship.  The plan was to finish the Thunder vs. Wings series then call it a day.  Thunder owner Sam Katz did in fact agree to host the finals even if the Thunder weren’t in it but that was now a moot point.  One of the 88’s owners offered the players $300 a game plus a $500 bonus if they won but they didn’t accept the offer.  Also, after the Halifax series the teams was down to seven players, included one that was injured.  It is unclear if that series was ever actually finished.

Post-Mortum of the NABA

That is the story of the short-lived North American Basketball Association.  The league was formed on August 4, 1992 and played its last game about a week later.  That’s got to be some sort of record.  The league, which actually played some games, announced the season was over just 15 days later.  Since Halifax was eliminated, Calgary gave up and Dayton was leading 2-0 over Winnipeg at last check; that would have to make the Dayton Wings the only NABA champions in their two week history.  So, I guess owner Milt Kantor can claim his team was back to back champions as they beat Calgary in the 1991 WBL Finals then “won” the NABA tournament.

On May 1, 1993 the NBL tipped off with teams in Cape Breton, Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.  The Windjammers, Skyhawks and Thunder were holdovers from the old World League (and in Halifax and Calgary’s case the very short lived North American Basketball League).  The Saskatoon Slam were under separate ownership of the old WBL Storm.  The Montreal Dragons and Cape Breton Breakers were brand new expansion teams.  The Dragons would fold on June 10 and the Skyhawks would (how is this for a minor league basketball move) relocate to Edmonton for the playoffs.  The Breakers would finish in first place and beat the now Edmonton Skyhawks 3-0 in the semifinals.  In the other semifinal, the Slam beat the Thuder 3-2 to set up the finals.  In shades of the previous year’s WBL/NABA playoffs, the lower seeded Slam hosted the entire finals against the Breakers.  The Slam would win 3-1 and the Cape Breton owner wouldn’t pay for this players way home.

In 1994, the Breakers would comeback under new ownership and surprisingly, no teams would fold.  The five teams that finished 1993 would be joined by the expansion Calgary Outlaws.  The league itself, would disband on July 9, when the Halifax Windjammers were 15-9 and in first place.  The Cape Breton team would finish 11-10.  Speaking of the Breakers, in the weeks leading up the league’s demise the team was subjected to relocation rumours.  The rumour mill had the team moving to either Saint John, Moncton or Hull in midseason.  There was a deal done with Saint John in late June but it fell through and the team reminded in Sydney.  Pro basketball wouldn’t return to Halifax until the Rainmen tipped off in the ABA in 2007.  The Rainmen would play eight seasons in three seperate leagues (ABA, Premier Basketball League & NBL Canada).  They were replaced with the Hurricanes in 2015 (team folded after the fiasco that lead to forfeiting game seven of the finals in Windsor, Ontario).  Pro hoops returned to Cape Breton in 2016 with the NBL Canada’s Highlanders.  Professional basketball would come to Saint John in 2010 when the PBL Manchester Mill Rats moved to the city.  The team would join NBL Canada a year later and rebrand as the Riptide in 2016.

Sources for this post are from articles from the time from both the Halifax Daily News and Toronto Star.


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Jake Sanford’s Path to the Majors


Jake Sanford will find himself at George M. Steinbrenner Field sooner or later (courtesy

Let’s take a quick moment to discuss Jake Sanford’s future.  As a baseball player, it’ll probably be three years or so before he makes the Major Leagues.  That means he’ll spend the next number of years riding the buses in the minors.  But where will he play?  Let’s examine the Yankees farm system to see where Sanford may be calling home in the future.  Keep in mind this is the Yankee’s present farm system, things are subject to change in the future in regards to things like franchise relocation and changes to affiliation agreements.

Rookie Leagues – The Yankees have two Gulf Coast League teams, names Yankees East and Yankees West.  Both teams play out of the team’s spring training complex in Tampa, Florida.  The more advanced rookies play for the Pulaski Yankees of the Appalachian League.  This team plays at Calfee Park in Pulaski, Virginia.  They have been affiliated with the Yankees since the 2015 season.  Blue Jays fans may remember them being the Pulaski Blue Jays from 2003 to 2006.

Short A – The Yankees (short season) Class A affiliate is the Staten Island Yankees.  These Yankees play out of the Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island.  The club has been successful since making their New York Penn League debut in 1999, winning six league championships but none since 2011.

Class A – The Yankees Class A affiliate is the Charleston RiverDogs of the South Atlantic League.  They play out of Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park in Charleston, South Carolina.  The RiverDogs have been a Yankees farm club since 2005.  The club has been playing out of Charleston since 1973, save for the 1979 season.

Class A Advanced – The Yankees Advanced Class A team (that’s right, Minor League Baseball has three divisions that go by Class A) are the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League.  The team plays out of George M. Steinbrenner Field, which is also the main spring training stadium of the parent New York Yankees.  The club has been Tampa based since 1994, taking on the Tarpons name last year, after being known as the Yankees.  The original Tampa Tarpons played from 1957-88, the Rays have actually worn their jerseys as throwbacks on previous occasions.

Double A – The club’s AA affiliate is the Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League.  The Yankees have had this affiliation since 2003, taking the affiliation over from the rival Boston Red Sox.  The Thunder play out of Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, New Jersey.  People from London, Ontario may remember the franchise when they were the London Tigers from 1989 to 1993 before relocating to their present location in the Garden State.

Triple A – The Yankee’s top farm club are the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders of the International League.  The team is based out of PNC Field, located in Moosic, Pennsylvania.  The franchise has bounced around over the years (but not since 1989), being located in previous locations such as Ottawa, ON and Old Orchard Beach, ME.  The Yankees have sent prospects here since 2007, after the club was a Phillies farm team.

So that is Sanford’s patch to the Majors assuming he can advance that far.  It is also dependent on the teams staying in their current locations which affiliations with the Yankees.  There is also the possibility of Sanford being traded to another organization.  This is a possibility as the Yankees are usually in contention and therefore trading prospects for Major League talent at the deadline.  But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  If he can keep up the good work, these are the steps Sanford needs to take to make it to Yankee Stadium sometime in the future.

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Newfoundland Growlers, Kelly Cup Champions!!!


The Newfoundland Growlers are the 2019 Kelly Cup Finals (courtesy VOCM).

I would also like to give a shoutout to the Newfoundland Growlers for becoming the first Canadian team to win the ECHL Kelly Cup.  The Growlers, a Maple Leafs affiliate, became the first professional team from the province of Newfoundland & Labrador to win a league championship.  Of course, the trophy the was presented to the team last night at the Mile One Centre in St. John’s is technically a replica as last year’s champions are holding the trophy hostage.

Previous Newfoundland pro teams to make their league finals are the 1992 St. John’s Maple Leafs (lost Calder Cup Finals to Adirondack 4-3), 2014 St. John’s Ice Caps (lost Calder Cup Finals to Texas 4-1) and this year’s St. John’s Edge (lost the NBL Finals to Moncton 4-0).

This is also Atlantic Canada’s first professional hockey championship since the 2001 Saint John Flames (AHL Calder Cup).  Other Atlantic Canadian Calder Cup champions are the 1972, 1976 & 1977 Nova Scotia Voyageurs, 1982 New Brunswick Hawks and 1993 Cape Breton Oilers.  Also worth noting this is the second straight year a Maple Leafs affiliate won their league championship as the Marlies won last year’s Calder Cup.

Congratulations to the Growlers!!!

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Jake Sanford Drafted By Yankees!!!


Western Kentucky’s Jake Sanford of Dartmouth was drafted by the New York Yankees in the third round yesterday (courtesy the Chronicle Herald).

Jake Sanford of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia was drafted yesterday in the third round of the MLB Draft (105th overall) by the New York Yankees.  He is the first Atlantic Canadian drafted by an MLB team since Chris Thibideau (Cole Harbour, NS) was drafted by the Padres in the 40th round in 2013.  He also became the highest drafted Nova Scotian of all time, a distinction previously held by Steve Nelson, a pitcher drafted by the Dodgers in 2001 (fifth round, 160th overall).

Sanford is quite the story.  He received no scholarship offers going into college, save for a volleyball scholarship from Dalhousie.  He played as a walk on a McCook College (a junior college) in Nebraska during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.  He actually paid this way through college during his first semester before earning scholarship for the second semester.  This past season, he transferred to NCAA Division 1 Western Kentucky where he put up impressive numbers.  SuperNova (as they call him) hit .402 with 22 homeruns and 65 RBI.  He became the first player in Conference USA history to win the conference’s triple crown.

Sanford, an outfielder and first baseman has never given up on his dream.  From having no scholarship offers to play college baseball in the States to being a third round MLB pick in just three or four years.  He is a late bloomer, one could call him the Drake Batherson of baseball.  Batherson, of the Ottawa Senators went undrafted into the QMJHL as a 16 year old (then undrafted as a 18 year old in the NHL) and is now a top prospect in the NHL.

It is amazing to think that just two seasons ago he was still playing summer baseball with the Dartmouth junior program.  Last year, he joined the senior Dartmouth Moosehead Dry for their historic 31-1 season.  He was away at college when the Dry won the league championship over Sydney during the fall.  Starting soon, Sanford will be playing professional baseball with a chance to make it to the major leagues.

Of course, most baseball fans in the Maritimes are Blue Jays or Red Sox fans.  When and if he makes the Yankees, many fans in the region will find themselves if not cheering for the Yankees, then at least cheering for one member of the team.  There will be lots of mixed emotions if he ever hits a game winning home run or RBI against one of those two teams.  Best of luck Jake!!!

Just on a personal note, this blog had more hits yesterday than any day in its history (everybody was obviously thinking about Jake and the draft). So I’ll like to thank Jake Sanford, Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees staff for the achievement.

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Ice will be bumpy for Jr. team


Here is another article from the Halifax Daily News archives.  This is from Tuesday, May 24, 1994.  The article discusses the challenges that laid ahead for Halifax’s new QMJHL team.  This team, of course, is the Halifax Mooseheads and they overcame all the obstacles and became one of the most successful junior franchises in all of Canada.  It is hard to believe that many people thought they had no chance at success with the reasoning the if minor pro (AHL) couldn’t work in the market, what chance does junior hockey have in Halifax.  Many also thought the team would be wise if they avoided the larger Metro Centre and made either the Halifax Forum or Dartmouth Sportsplex home.  Many also thought it was inevitable that the AHL would come back and both the Mooseheads and AHL would catabolize each other.

Here we are 25 years later (almost to the day) and the Mooseheads are one of the most popular major junior hockey teams in the country.  It is amazing to think that the team celebrated their 25th anniversary season this year, while the QMJHL celebrated their 50th season as well.  This means the Mooseheads have been in the league for exactly half of its existance.  The franchise has came a long way since these early days when people questioned its viability.

It is fun to look back on these articles this week as the Mooseheads are hosting their second Memorial Cup (first one was in 2000).  Also worth noting is Martitime based teams have won three Memorial Cups since 2011 (Saint John in 2011, Halifax in 2013 and Acadie-Bathurst in 2018).  During the 2018-19 season; the Mooseheads, Wildcats, Sea Dogs and Islanders all finished in the top seven in league attendance.  This just goes to show that Maritimers have come to accept (and in many cases love) the major junior brand of hockey.

Ice will be bumpy for jr. team

By John MacNeil

THE HALIFAX Mooseheads will set loose today with all the fanfare that accompanies the announcement of a new team, a new coach or a new season.

Metro’s media will be told that Halifax’s entry into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is an exciting addition to an otherwise crowded market. “The National Hockey League’s stars of tomorrow will be in action at Halifax Metro Centre next season,” or words to that effect, will come out of the mouths of coach and general manager Clement Jodoin and Moosehead top executive Harold MacKay.

And metro’s sports media — at least its predominantly acquiescent columnists — will take that message at face value. Any team’s marketing department would be hard-pressed to match the sales pitch presented by this region’s columnists — as long as the team or athlete in question is still in town.

But everyone from the investors to the coaches of Atlantic Canada’s first major junior team knows that an over-supportive press corps is not enough to make the product sustainable. There have been too many casualties to think otherwise. Three American Hockey League teams — the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the Nova Scotia Oilers and the Halifax Citadels — each pulled out of the port city prematurely.

Now major junior is testing waters deemed too rough by the pros. Why?

Perhaps the real reason that the previously all-Quebec league is expanding to Halifax — and possibly Moncton — is that it is not selling within la belle province . That fact was most apparent last week when Laval hosted the Memorial Cup, the showcase of Canadian major junior hockey. Fewer than 2,000 fans showed up on opening night to watch the host Titan play the Ontario league’s North Bay Centennials.

“The only reason they’re looking at the Maritimes is that they can’t draw 800 people in most of their buildings,” said one insider. “How many of their teams are folding and trying to move? It’s not good.”

The Quebec league — suffering from a limited AAA midget breeding ground within Quebec — is trying to expand its feeder system by gaining exclusive rights to major junior players from Atlantic Canada. The league wants that wish granted the season after next, meaning that Atlantic Canadians would no longer be permitted to play in the Ontario and Western leagues — the NHL’s two greatest suppliers.

Most of the Maritimes’ top midget players chose to make themselves available in next week’s Ontario draft, turning down a possible opportunity to play major junior in their home region. Will the Quebec league be similarly snubbed by metro’s fickle fans?”I don’t know, because you know yourself that the Citadels didn’t pan out,” said David Haynes, a Halifax junior A graduate who’s played with Laval the past two seasons. “I think the area is hockeyed-out. You’ve got your university teams, your AAA (midget) teams and your junior teams. But I think major junior hockey will be a good experience. The fans that like the fights are going to come out and watch it. They are going to get to see some big-name players. The (Alexandre) Daigles of the future will be in the area.”

Haynes, an 18-year-old winger who could conceivably end up in Halifax via Friday’s expansion draft, said the Mooseheads must be diligent.

“I think there’s a fair amount of work that the organization has to do in order for it to be successful. You can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to put a team in Halifax,’ and hope that people come out. They have to really push it and really let the players that are playing midget and bantam there know what it’s all about. If you get those guys going to the games, then the parents and friends are going to go to the games.”

Although the attention already afforded the Mooseheads would indicate otherwise, the Quebec league expansionists will be the second-best team based at 10,000-seat Metro Centre next season. The Saint Mary’s Huskies of the Atlantic Universities Hockey Conference will be back downtown for the second straight season — and rest assured that coach Paul Boutilier’s top recruits are not from the midget ranks.

Atlantic university players from all three major junior leagues have said the college game features bigger, smarter and more-skilled players.

“I think university hockey is a good calibre of hockey,” said Halifax major junior scout Donnie Matheson, “and the best university team would beat most major A teams because the kids are older.

“The biggest difference is they won’t have Pat LaFontaine or Yannick Dube on their team. Whereas a lot of major A teams will have someone like that who can do just about anything he wants to with or without the puck, within his age group. That’s what fans have to realize. Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy played in this league. Fans will get an opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow in this league.”

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