The Central Junior ‘A’ Hockey League was formed in 1961 under the sponsorship of the Montreal Canadiens Hockey Club in order to act as a development league in the National Capital Region. The League was originally known as the Ottawa-Hull District Junior Hockey League. Prior to the formation of this league, there was a league comprising teams from Ottawa. Teams from outlying areas were excluded except for Pembroke who were allowed to participate in the playoffs. Originally the members of the OHDJHL included Hawkesbury, Hull, Cornwall, Ottawa (Primrose), Smiths Falls and Pembroke. Players from the OHDJHL automatically became the property of the Montreal Canadiens unless they had signed a ‘C’ form with another NHL hockey club.
The BOGART CUP, symbol of CJHL hockey supremacy, was donated by Art Bogart of Pembroke in 1961. Mr Bogart was not only the owner of the Pembroke Lumber Kings, but was a true believer in ensuring that the players came first on his teams and that the fans were treated to the best hockey possible. Art Bogart finally won this most treasured trophy in 1973.
The Montreal Canadiens as sponsors determined that the OHDJHL was to be a development league, and as such they imposed a restriction on player numbers based on age. Each team was allowed 4 – 19 year olds, 5 – 18 year olds and the remaining players had to be 17 and under. This caused a great outcry from players (mostly 20 year olds) who were pushed out of the league. The Fans saw it otherwise and attendance jumped from an average of 300 per game to 1500 per game. The younger players brought a high level of intensity to the game and the competitive level between the teams and players meant for exciting hockey. Alumni from those early years included Wayne Thomas (goalie Ottawa Primrose – Montreal Canadiens), Billy Smith (goalie, Smiths Falls – New York Islanders) and Tom Casey (Ottawa Primrose – Ottawa Citizen Sports Reporter (retired)).
The Hull Hawks were coached by Lally Lalonde who is not only remembered for his nickname (by opposing fans) of Lollipop’, but also as being the only coach to ever change all 6 players during line changes. Lally implemented this 6 man line change during a game in Pembroke in front of 2600+ fans.
The OHDJHL expanded in 1963 to 10 teams with the Canadiens agreeing to allow the Brockville Braves (sponsored by the Chicago Blackhawks) to become members of the OHDJHL. The League remained stable until 1967 when the first expansion of the NHL brought a stop to sponsorship of Junior Hockey by NHL teams. The NHL implemented a draft procedure that included Junior hockey players and therefore members of the OHDJHL were now eligible for the draft. Attendance was now incredible and arenas around the League were packed with rabid hockey fans. The competitive, high calibre hockey combined with a chance to see future NHL players in action brought an intense loyalty by fans to community teams.
In 1968 – 69 Grant MacIntosh, of MacIntosh and Watts, bought the Ottawa Montegards and changed the name to the M&W Rangers. In their second season under the M&W banner the Rangers became League Champions and went on to play the Western Ontario Champions from Windsor. With Mark and Marty Howe playing for Windsor the demand for tickets to playoff games in Ottawa was crazy and thousands of fans had to be turned away. During the early 1970 s the League decided to concentrate on being a developmental league for Major Junior leagues and for the NCAA hockey programs.
The Centennial Cup (now the Royal Bank Cup), a symbol of Junior A Hockey supremacy in Canada, was donated by the Province of Manitoba.
In the late 60’s the formation of Major Junior Hockey Leagues would have a huge impact on our league. The Cornwall Royals applied for membership in the OHL, were refused and joined the Major League operating in Quebec. In 1973 the Hull Hawks left to join the Quebec Major Junior League. With the loss of teams to Major Junior Hockey Leagues, new blood was needed and found with the Nepean Raiders.
Brian Murray, presently the head coach of the Ottawa Senators made his debut in the CJHL with the Pembroke Lumber Kings and then moved to the Rockland Nationals. Coach Murray took the Nationals to the Centennial Cup Championship representative of Junior A hockey supremacy in Canada. Unfortunately the cost of success was great and the Nationals folded in bankruptcy the following year. In 1975 the CHA ruled that 20 year olds were once again eligible for Junior A Hockey.
In 1979 the roof caved in on the Brockville arena leaving the Braves homeless. The Braves played out of Cardinal before settling into Rockland until their arena was repaired.
With the success of the Rockland Nationals, combined with the new CHA eligibility rules, teams began to buy winners by signing 20 year olds discarded by the Major Junior Leagues. With the loss of the original successful age structure there was a return of “goon” hockey, a plummeting of the calibre of hockey, which in turn caused a drop in attendance and resulted in several teams folding due to financial trouble.
By 1984 the CJHL was in deep trouble wIth only 5 teams remaining, and many of them on shaky ground. The 5 remaining teams met in desperation at the Talisman Hotel in Ottawa in a last ditch desperate attempt to save the league. Jeff MacLean, Tony MacDonald, Jim Farrelli, Mac MacLean and Gary hammered out a plan to save the CJHL. The got rid of ex major junior players, reduced the number of 20 year old players to five, agreed to stop paying players, and to move back to developing players and promoting education and hockey. The dividends were immediate as a number of scholarships received by CJHL players skyrocketed.
The CJHL made proposals to the CHA that would allow teams a longer season, a shorter national playoff structure, that would allow teams to take in more revenue and ensure that winners did not go bankrupt because of the playoffs.
The CJHL not only produces scholarships but has also kick started the careers of many coaches such as Bryan Murray. Jacques Martin. Bob Hartley and Doug MacLean.
With the new focus on development and education, the fans and the teams came back. First the Ottawa Senators (now Jr. Senators) and then in 1986-87 the Smiths Falls Bears returned under the ownership of Mac MacLean. In 1989 Des Keon (of Canadian Tire fame) brought junior hockey to Kanata. In 1991 the Kanata Sports Club bought the Kanata Valley Lasers from Mr. Keon. In 2002 the Kanata Sports Club sold the Lasers to businessman John Russo. The Kanata entry in the CJHL became known as the Kanata Stallions.
The Massena Americans became the first American based entry in the CJHL when they joined in the early 1990’s.
The Lasers never missed the CJHL playoffs during the time they were known as the Kanata Valley Lasers.
When Major Junior hockey pulled out of Cornwall in 1992, the Americans moved to Cornwall and became the Colts. The Cumberland Grads joined the CJHL in 1992 when they received approval to upgrade the Junior B franchise playing out of the Navan Arena.
Each of the teams plays a 55 to 57 game regular season schedule, with a great majority of games played on weekends, allowing the players to concentrate on combining education and hockey. Playoffs can add another 21 games with the League and, possibly another 11 in search of a Canadian Championship.
The largest crowd ever to watch a CJHL -QHDJHLJ) game was 5200+ in Pembroke in a game against the Ottawa Primrose. The largest crowd for a Junior A hockey game in Canada was played in Winnipeg in front of 9200+ fans as the Pembroke Lumber Kings battled Portage La Prairie for the Canadian Championship. (This game drew more fans than the Winnipeg Jets drew on a regular night).
In addition to providing an excellent training ground for developing players, the CJHL continues to provide an entertaining brand of hockey for junior hockey fans in Eastern Ontario. The 2002 – 2004 season saw attendance exceed 325,000 fans among the ten league franchises. Everyone is a winner in the CJHL.
The CJHL can attest to the fact that it has developed many hockey players, coaches and front office staff for all levels of hockey. The accomplishment is due to the fact that not only a high level of hockey is played but also an extremely high understanding of the game exists by all the teams in the League.
Every year there are between 30 and 35 players in the NHL who at one tine in their career played in the CJHL. Danius Zubrus has the distinction of being the only player to be drafted from the CJHL (Pembroke Lumber Kings) to immediately play in the NHL (Philadelphia Flyers). Recently Grant Clitsome was drafted from the Nepean Raiders in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
The Cornwall Colts became the 4th team in CJHL history to play host to a Centennial/Royal Bank Cup tournament in 2008. The Colts managed to qualify for the semi-finals, but were ousted 7-1 by the Humboldt Broncos. Since 1995, no other CJHL teams qualifty for the Royal Bank Cup finals, as seven different teams came short since 1997.
In 2009, the Carleton Place Canadians, another former EOJBHL team, was announced as the league’s 12th franchise. They will begin play during the 2009-10 season. At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, the league dropped the “A” from their name, switching to the Central Junior Hockey League.
In February 2010, it was announced that the Smiths Falls Memorial Centre – one of the leagues oldest facilities and home to the Smiths Falls Bears was staging its final home game of the 2009-10 season. The Bears will be moving into a brand-new multipurpose facility for the fall, while the Memorial Centre will be demolished to accomidate parking spaces for the new facility.
In April 2010, the Pembroke Lumber Kings made CJHL history by winning four-consecutive Art Bogart Cup championships, which is now the most-consecutive championships won by a CJHL team, however the Pembroke Lumber Kings qualified for the Fred Page Cup the fifth consecutive year, but lost the finals to the Brockville Braves, who advance to the Royal Bank Cup in Dauphin, Manitoba.
On April 26, 2010, the league rebranded by changing their league to the Central Hockey League, from the Central Junior Hockey League
The 2012 Fred Page Cup was awarded to the Kanata Stallions to commemorate their 25 years of Jr. A hockey in Kanata.
Today the CHL boasts a strong vibrant 12 team League. Some of the teams that are presently in the League are original charter members. The, CHL is now one of the most successful Junior A developmental leagues in Canada.
Education and DevelopmentThe single most important element of the CJHL is the successful combination of hockey and education. Players in the CJHL are expected to treat their education as a priority equal to their development as an athlete and each team strives to combine a high level of competition with a commitment to education. With a 55+ game schedule, practice time, off ice conditioning and public appearances, players are well prepared for their next level of hockey, whether it be at the college level or as a professional. The CJHL is truly Futures on Ice
The CJHL is scouted extensively by the NCAA, CIAIJ and Canadian Major Junior teams. Due to the successful professional careers of CJHL graduates, the best scouting staff of many professional teams are also frequent visitors to the league s arenas.
Jeff MacLean of the Nepean became so involved in the CJHL and the concept of education through hockey that he quit his day job because it was interfering with his work in hockey. It is said that Jeff got scholarships for more CJHL players than all others combined. Several NHL players have been quoted as saying that Jeff MacLean was the one person who had the most influence in their career.