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Daily Dish: Monday Mash Canadian Junior Hockey News

Published: Monday, 27 Jan 2020  
By: Stephen Heisler, JuniorHockey.com


Today’s going to be fun. 

Somebody asked our private discussion group about which team is the biggest spoiler in the North American Hockey League. In my not so infinite wisdom, I voted for Maine. I think it’s fair to say that Wings’ coach Scott Langer would say I should have voted for St. Cloud. 

Once we get through the NAHL update there’s a nice state affiliate / control freak conflict to get into the middle of in Arizona. This one even includes a response from legal counsel. It’s all fun and games until the lawyers get involved.

It’s not like there’s a game-wide shortage of on-ice officials as there is; the fully baked state association / union busters are trying to wrangle control of the on-ice officials from the independent referee association. 

Like I said, that’s going to be interesting.

But first…

The Central Division leading Aberdeen Wings (27-6-4-2) might have been a bit guilty of overlooking the last place Blizzard before hitting the ice in St Cloud Friday night. I’m pretty sure that won’t be happening again. Langer’s crew got the job done Saturday to earn the split. Langer knows all too well about letting off the gas this early in the season. A single point separates Minot (22-12-1-4) from Bismarck (21-11-3-3) and Austin (21-12-2-4). The Minnesota Wilderness (19-18-2-0) have fallen back to eight points out of the playoff picture. I’m thinking that Friday night’s win over the Wings was just what Moe Mantha’s St Cloud Blizzard (10-25-3-1) needed. That big win sets the table for the youngsters to give it all in every game with the full intention of being in contention this time next season. 

Remember about a month or so ago when everyone (including me) was thinking that the Jersey Titans (29-7-0-1) were just going to run away with the East Division title? Not so fast folks: Johnstown (25-12-2-2) keeps picking up a game here and there and are now just five points behind the leaders. Yes, it’s true that the Tomahawks have four more games played than the Titans. Third-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (19-17-4-1) currently has a four-point lead over Maryland (16-17-7-0) and that’s when things start to get really crazy. You see, in the East, everybody is still a playoff contender. Maine (17-24-2-0) is just three-points out, the Northeast Generals (16-20-1-1) is five, and even currently last place Jamestown (15-24-1-2) is a few good weekends from getting to the post-season free-for-all. 

As the month of January approaches the conclusion, we find ourselves looking at a very familiar picture atop the Midwest Division; the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (30-9-1-2). Regulation winners in eleven of their last dozen games, Fairbanks is blood-thirsty with a struggling Kenai River (24-13-2-3) visiting this weekend. The second-place Brown Bears picked up the home sweep of the expansion New Mexico team but has just three wins in the last ten games. The Chippewa Steel (23-12-0-0) have a fairly tight grip on third place with eight wins in the last ten games. It looks like the Janesville Jets (16-22-1-0) have decided to play big-boy hockey after back-to-back wins over the Wilderness. The Minnesota Magicians (11-20-5-3) are just a trio of points behind Janesville in the race for that fourth playoff spot and Springfield (13-25-2-1) are a point behind them. The reality for the Jets, Magicians, and Blues is the inevitable run-in with Fairbanks in the first round for the boys that do take that last spot. Be careful what you wish for.

And that leaves us with that mess that is the South Division… and things could not get any tighter for the top four. While Lone Star (33-8-0-1) and Amarillo (32-7-1-2) are tied for the lead, Topeka (26-11-1-2) is just a point ahead of Shreveport (27-13-0-0). The bottom three teams now a combined 0-36-2-0 in a division that never should have been so lopsided.  Corpus Christi (13-24-3-3) is winless in the last thirteen games. New Mexico (8-28-2-2) went winless in Alaska and Odessa (7-30-1-1) was 7-9-1-1 when the wheels feel off their bus to start a 21 game slide.


Jeers
Arizona, you have got to be kidding me.  This information was passed to us by one of the on-ice officials in Phoenix. In a nutshell, it looks like the affiliate is trying to bust the union. 

We are writing you to make everyone aware that the future of Arizona Hockey Referee Association (AHRA) is being threatened by the Arizona Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) Board.  We want to make sure that everyone is fully aware of this risk to our future and what got us to this point.

Key Highlights:
*AAHA is threatening to disband AHRA if AHRA does not agree to sign an affiliate agreement to become a ‘Member Organization” of AAHA.

*What does becoming a ‘Member Organization” mean?

*AHRA would be subject to adhering to all of AAHA’s bylaws. AAHA would have full autonomy to institute any changes concerning officials and scorekeepers without any input or agreement from AHRA or its members. In today’s environment, AAHA and AHRA must negotiate and jointly agree to any changes as they relate to officials and score keepers.

*What changes could they institute?

*Reductions to game fees paid.

*Increased time for their member affiliates (i.e. rinks, leagues, teams) to pay for officiating services.

*Sanctions & discipline to officials for performance.

*Why is AHRA mandating that AHRA sign this agreement now after 5+ years of no such requirement?

*AAHA has not been able to provide a reasonable answer to this question. They have simply stated that this is how they wish to operate moving forward.

*What is AAHA’s plan for officials if they disband AHRA?

*This is not abundantly clear, but we are confident that AAHA would immediately look to reduce pay rates and extend the time to pay officials. Additionally, scheduling of officials would likely be handled by each individual rink/league/team so there would no longer be a central scheduling system. In this scenario, rather than getting paid once per month from AHRA, you would likely receive multiple checks at multiple different times from multiple different rinks/leagues/teams.

 History:
Last March AAHA President Tim Reckell and Adam Mims blocked AHRA’s request for an Adult Rate increase stating that the board would not consider any rate increase until there was an Operating Agreement between the two entities.  AHRA agreed fully that such agreement would be beneficial to both sides and work began on creating an Operating Agreement.

In July, AHRA received an email from the Attorney representing AAHA with an Affiliate Agreement and a copy of the proposed AAHA by-law changes.  The Affiliate Agreement requires AHRA to comply with the AAHA by-laws. AHRA would have no control over those by-laws.  The proposed changes to AAHA by-laws included increasing the time leagues have to pay officiating invoices from our current 10-day period to 30 days. This would effectively institute a 20-day delay in payroll for all officials. Rather than getting paid on the 20th of each month for the prior months games worked, officials would be paid on the 10th of the following month. If AHRA was tied to AAHA bylaws, AAHA would also have the power to make arbitrary changes to game rates as well as sanction and discipline officials as they see fit.  AHRA rejected this offer and stated that we felt an agreement could be reached that was not tied to the AAHA by-laws.  Ultimately negotiations began between representative of both of our Boards.

During the negotiations AAHA continued to push for the affiliate and by-laws approach and AHRA continued to maintain this type of agreement was not in the best interest of our Association or our officials. As AAHA was already represented by legal counsel, AHRA sought and began retaining legal counsel.  Throughout negotiations, there were many items that we were able to agree on. After our last meeting in November we got a point where we could not come to an agreement on the type of agreement, so we suggested that we invite the lawyers to the next meeting.

On Dec 17th we received an email from AAHA  stating that AAHA had no interest in further negotiations, and that if AHRA did not sign the affiliate agreement tying AHRA to AAHA bylaws, they would recommend AAHA go another direction for officials at the end of the season. AHRA shared this communication with our legal counsel and determined that simply signing the agreement was not an option and began working on the next steps.

On January 6th AHRA President, Chris Zorza submitted his monthly AHRA Officiating Report to AAHA for their monthly meeting scheduled for January 13th. This report included a summary of how the discussions had stalled and a copy of the threatening email from their AAHA legal counsel to AHRA. After submission of this report, AHRA’s legal counsel was immediately inundated with numerous threatening emails, echoing the same message: sign the agreement as presented or AHRA will move in a different direction at the end of the season.  AHRA responded to these threats by working quickly and swiftly to create a draft agreement to AAHA that would allow the parties to be joined, would not subject AHRA to AAHA’s bylaws and would allow for a collaborative relationship whereby terms would be agreed to jointly.

AAHA responded to AAHA’s proposal by advising that several key terms were non-negotiable (including the term of tying AHRA to AAHA bylaws).  When the AHRA Officiating Report distributed to the AAHA board for the meeting on January 13th, the report submitted by Chris was edited with everything related to this negotiation removed.  It can only be assumed that AAHA did not want the full AAHA Board to have access to the details of the ongoing negotiations. During the AAHA meeting on January 13, AAHA refused to discuss this topic in the open session.  Instead, they opted to have a closed session to discuss AHRA’s future in Arizona Hockey without anyone from AHRA allowed to be present for the discussions.

The following day, AHRA received an email from AAHA legal counsel, advising that negotiations were closed and AHRA needed to ‘immediately execute’ the agreement as proposed by AAHA.  AAHA would not be open to any changes to the agreement.  If AHRA does not sign the document, AAHA will begin planning the disbanding of AHRA by the end of this season.

Why we have not signed:
AHRA does not feel it is appropriate for the AAHA Board to have the ability to set policy in their bylaws that govern game rates, timing of payments & discipline/sanctions to officials.  AHRA believes this is the equivalent of AAHA mandating to rinks how much they must charge for ice time and when payments for ice time rentals are due.

Additionally, AHRA does not feel this process has been handled in an open and transparent fashion by AAHA leadership.  We feel this agreement is being forced by a small group of AAHA to serve their own needs and is not being handled with the benefit of the entire hockey community in mind. 

Call to Action:
We need to hear from our officials and the hockey community to ensure we are doing the right thing by standing our ground on something that we feel will be detrimental to the needs of the officiating & overall hockey community in the state of Arizona. In order for Arizona Hockey to operate fairly and efficiently, Arizona hockey officials must have independence from the AAHA.  If you have an opinion or would like more information on this ongoing situation, please contact the AHRA & AAHA board of directors.


Then came this response from the attorneys. They must get paid by the word because this is a long read.

Dear Members of the Arizona Hockey Community:
As Affiliate Counsel to Arizona Amateur Hockey Association (“AAHA”), USA Hockey’s Arizona Affiliate, we have been asked to respond on behalf of the AAHA Board to the January 22nd email from the Board of Directors of Arizona Hockey Referee Association (“AHRA”) that many of you have received.

First and foremost, the AAHA Board expresses its appreciation to the individual officials for your efforts in making Arizona hockey what it is today. Setting aside the politics of disputes between the two Boards, AAHA fully understands that the continued success of amateur hockey in Arizona is dependent upon your individual efforts and hard work. Officials are a necessary and critical component of the sport. In fact, it is this appreciation that drives the desire of AAHA to bring AHRA into the USA Hockey family. It may come as a surprise to many of you, and it is certainly not something shared with you by AHRA’s recent communication, but AHRA is NOT, and has NEVER BEEN, a USA Hockey member organization. Rather, AHRA insists, for unexplained reasons of its own, to operate outside of the USA Hockey family of organizations.

Contrary to AHRA’s email, the AAHA Board is not trying to force some unusual change upon the officials, especially as each and every individual official is already mandated to be a member of USA Hockey. Instead, the purpose is to normalize the relationship between AHRA and AAHA/USA Hockey to ensure that the interests and concerns of AHRA, the officials, AAHA, its Members, and USA Hockey (and any disputes between any of them), will be governed by uniform bylaws, policies, and procedures within the infrastructure of USA Hockey in Arizona subject to the national mandates promulgated USA Hockey in Colorado Springs. It is commonplace for officiating organizations to be members of the involved affiliate. As such, AAHA is simply asking that AHRA come to the table as a member as many, if not most, other officiating organizations do throughout USA Hockey. What is unusual is AHRA’s insistence that it remain outside of USA Hockey even though everyone else involved is within USA Hockey.

That is why AHRA’s January 22nd email is so confusing. AHRA’s fears are completely unfounded if the proposed agreement and policies are actually read. Anyone who is interested may request copies and come to their own conclusions. AAHA’s goal is transparency and accountability, not to mention integrity, in one of the most critical components of hockey operations – officiating. Allowing a non-member, unaccountable to AAHA/USA Hockey, a monopoly on such services is neither prudent nor in the best interests of AAHA’s individual and organizational members. Notwithstanding, AAHA is still inviting AHRA to be the sole authorized officiating organization in Arizona provided it demonstrates its commitment to USA Hockey by becoming a member. Refusal suggests that the trust and confidence AAHA has consistently placed in AHRA may not be justified. At the same time, AAHA remains hopeful that AHRA will join to help build an even better Arizona hockey community within the USA Hockey framework. AHRA has a choice to make. But, to be clear, it is AHRA that desires to maintain a status that is unusual and inconsistent with the norms in USA Hockey.

There is no need to rehash or rebut the history that AHRA sets forth other than to say it is less than complete or accurate. It is certainly not AAHA’s desire to further fuel this dispute. Rather, AAHA seeks resolution. In this regard, consider AAHA’s responses, below, to AHRA’s “Key Highlights” as we are sure you will agree that the agreement will be a benefit to AHRA and the officials:

*AHRA and the officials will have more say and protection with respect to fees.

* Nobody disputes that uniform fee schedules are necessary to avoid appearances of bias and promote the integrity of the sport. The agreement requires that AHRA abide by the fee schedules. This only puts on paper what is already being done and allows for a formal procedure for establishment of fees and enforcement of payment obligations.

*Contrary to AHRA’s claims, there is nothing that currently requires AAHA and AHRA to “negotiate and jointly agree” to fees or anything else. As an Officiating Member Organization, AHRA will have the right to meet with AAHA on an annual basis to discuss the fee schedules and any changes the officials believe are appropriate. It may also come as a surprise to many of you to learn that AHRA and AAHA/USA Hockey do not have any contract or formal agreement in place. This is in nobody’s interest.

Membership allows issues and disputes to be addressed internally and in a way consistent with AAHA/USA Hockey processes rather than through the courts. USA Hockey exists for many reasons – providing uniform processes for meaningful and expedient conflict resolution and accountability while fostering the growth of the sport is one of them.

Membership will serve AHRA well.

*The AAHA Board will also be required to consider input from the Officiating Member Organization. This is not currently required. Of course, AAHA has a very good reason to make sure that the fee schedules are acceptable to the officials. Without officials willing to provide services for the uniform fee, there can be no hockey. At the same time, those fee schedules must be consistent with the budgetary realities of other AAHA Member Organizations. Having an infrastructure to address the establishment of fair, but also responsible, uniform fee schedules is absolutely necessary for all parties.

*Contrary to AHRA’s claims, there are no proposed changes that increase the time to pay invoices to 30 days. AAHA policy will require that invoices be paid within 15 days.

Given that AHRA already collects and holds your money so that you receive only one monthly check, this should not affect the individual officials at all. At the most, it means that AHRA holds your money for about 5 less days.

*Signing the agreement will give officials a forum to enforce non-payment by Member Organizations. You may not be aware, but under Article 3 of the AHRA Bylaws, "AHRA is not and will not act as a collection agency for outstanding financial obligations. Collection of outstanding financial obligations for officials lies with the official.” Thus, according to AHRA’s Bylaws, if you are not paid, it is up to you to take action against thenon-paying Member Organization.

*Entering into the agreement will give AAHA the ability to hear claims of non-payment and to discipline offending Member Organizations. It also means that AHRA’s voice, on behalf of the officials, will be heard on the AAHA Board when such discipline is being considered. AHRA will still exist and govern its own affairs.

*AAHA is not threatening to “disband” AHRA. AAHA has no ability to disband AHRA. It is not clear how AHRA could have arrived at this conclusion. With all due respect to AHRA’s Board, this claim is factually and legally false.

*AHRA will continue as a separate entity overseeing the officials. In fact, the proposed agreement expressly states that AHRA “shall remain a separate entity from AAHA, with complete authority to conduct its affairs and programs” subject only to the same rules governing everyone else in USA Hockey sanctioned events in Arizona. Will AHRA be required to abide by the AAHA/USA Hockey mandates in conducting its affairs? Yes, just like everyone else in Arizona.

*AAHA is asking AHRA to become an Officiating Member Organization. Under the AAHA Bylaws and policies, Officiating Member Organizations maintain much more autonomy than Member Organizations. This allows officials to remain free from claims of bias while still ensuring that all aspects of hockey in Arizona remain within the exclusive jursidiction of the USA Hockey Affiliate.

*AHRA suggests that AAHA is looking to unreasonably sanction and discipline officials. It is reckless, to say the least, that AHRA would predict that any future disciplinary action would be “unreasonable” or somehow inappropriate. USA Hockey has a well-established discipline and appeal protocol to protect against unfair or inappropriate sanctions or discipline. See USA Hockey Bylaw 10. In any event, AAHA already has jurisdiction over disciplinary proceedings in Arizona, subject to appeals to USA Hockey. Further, SafeSport, a United States Olympic Committee program, maintains concurrent jurisdiction over a variety of personnel and occurences in Arizona under federal law. Any suggestion that officials will be subjected to “unreasonable” sanctions and discipline despite the existing panoply of safeguards, organizations, review and appeal processes, and the like is simply incorrect.

AHRA will be guaranteed a director seat to ensure that AAHA does not make changes without input from AHRA.

*AHRA claims that AAHA will get “full autonomy to institute any changes” without any input from AHRA or its officials. Actually, the agreement does the exact opposite.

*Presently, AHRA has no legal right to seat a director on the AAHA Board. Officiating Member Organizations obtain a benefit that AHRA does not currently enjoy – a guaranteed seat on the AAHA Board of Directors. Although AAHA currently allows AHRA a seat on its Board, that is voluntary and not required. Membership will ensure that AHRA maintains a seat on the AAHA Board. Does this sound like AAHA is disinterested in what AHRA has to say? Of course not.

*In fact, AAHA specifically asked for AHRA’s input in the agreement that AHRA now objects to. AAHA incorporated that input both into the agreement and updated policies governing officials. While it is correct that some of what AHRA requested has been rejected, it is only because AAHA must serve the best interests of hockey in Arizona and of its greater membership. Certain proposed changes by AHRA were inconsistent with these interests. The terms presently proposed are consistent with those elsewhere in USA Hockey. In fact, the present form of the agreement, which AHRA refuses to sign, was modeled after the agreements in place in both Texas and Colorado.

Why is this happening now?

As you may be aware, AAHA has spent the last year or so reviewing its governing documents, some of which were decades old and very outdated, to reflect its established operations. In doing so, AAHA amended its Board composition to provide for something that did not previously exist – a guaranteed seat for an “Officiating Director.” However, that director can only be seated by an Officiating Member Organization. That is the reason for the agreement. This has been explained to AHRA.

AHRA suggests that AAHA is unreasonable. However, AAHA is entitled to decide how it wishes to operate, and it wishes to do so in a way that includes all voices that make up the sport of hockey consistent with how other USA Hockey affiliates function. That is why AAHA has specifically sought to include AHRA as an Officiating Member Organization. At the same time, everything AAHA is proposing is consistent with the existing relationship. For reasons that are unclear, AHRA’s Board simply does not want to participate despite being invited and encouraged to do so. Change can be difficult, and challenging. But this change is needed and consistent with the best interests of the entire USA Hockey family in Arizona.

What happens if AHRA does not agree?

The AAHA Board is hopeful that this is merely a misunderstanding and that, with the above clarifications, the agreement will be signed and everything will continue seamlessly. AAHA is dedicated to continuing to make the relationship work. But it must work responsibly.

If AHRA chooses to remain outside of USA Hockey, AAHA will not “disband” AHRA, and AAHA intends to continue the status quo through the present season. However, beginning next season, AAHA will be forced to consider all options to ensure that officiating continues.

There is nothing that prevents another association of USA Hockey-sanctioned officials from seeking status as an Officiating Member Organization. Alternatively, consistent with its status as the Affiliate with exclusive jurisdiction over the sport of hockey in Arizona as granted by USA Hockey, AAHA could theoretically provide the same administrative functions (payment collection/distribution and scheduling) as AHRA presently provides. In fact, given AAHA’s existing infrastructure as the Affiliate, AAHA may be able to do everything AHRA does at less cost while maintaining (or even increasing) the fees paid to officials. To be clear, that is not what AAHA desires. Quite the contrary. The choice is not AAHA’s, it is AHRA’s. But depending on AHRA’s choice, AAHA will be required to act.

In any event, the only certainty going forward is that AAHA is committed to ensuring that the sport of hockey will continue to operate in Arizona in a manner that benefits all the individuals who play as well as parents, coaches, and officials. AAHA has a duty to provide for an infrastructure that is sound and certain to provide required services to all of its Member Organization’s hockey operations. Bringing the officiating organization, AHRA, into the USA Hockey family in Arizona is not only the prudent course of action but a necessary one. Allowing a non-member, operating outside of USA Hockey, to maintain a monopoly over critical services, would be irresponsible.

AAHA will move forward, responsibly. On behalf of the AAHA Board, we extend our hand to AHRA to join us.

We hope that this response provides clarity.

Rick K. Carter, Esq. & Matthew A. Klopp, Esq.
Affiliate Counsel, Arizona Amateur Hockey Association

So who's going to prevail? I see a threat that the affiliate is going to put one of their own puppets into the driver's seat of the new referee association in an effort to bust the union. Imagine the turmoil if the refs simply say no thanks and just watch the Coyotes next season. Will Arizona be forced to bring in game officials from the great hockey state of Minnesota? Will they cross the picket line if there is one? How long would it take for the affiliate to realize they took a huge risk when parents start asking for refunds because there are no licensed on-ice game officials? 

Stay tuned, this is going to be fun to follow.

Author: Stephen Heisler from JuniorHockey.com
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.


* Disclaimer: This site may contain advice, opinions and statements from various authors and information providers. Views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author, Stephen Heisler, and not necessarily the views of JuniorHockey.ca. JuniorHockey.ca does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other info provided in the article, or from any other member of this site.
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