By Rockne Roll • Multimedia Journalist • 

Junior hockey taken to court

Northwest teams, including Portland Winterhawks, tied up in legal troubles

An attorney in Ontario, Canada, presumably taking a page from legal actions being filed against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has filed a suit in Canadian court that could hit closer to home for Oregon sports fans then one might think.

NPR is reporting that Ted Charney has initiated a class action on behalf of players in Canada’s three Major Junior Hockey leagues demanding back wages, vacation pay and unpaid overtime. One of those leagues, the Western Hockey League, includes the Portland Winterhawks among its five U.S. members. Three other American teams play in the Ontario Hockey League, also part of the suit.

Players in Major Junior Hockey, who range in age from 16 to 20, are considered amateurs by the game’s governing body, Hockey Canada, and by the professional National Hockey League. However, players are provided with accommodations, meals and a small weekly cash stipend, in addition to college scholarships. These remunerations are enough to merit “non-amateur” status in the eyes of the NCAA, meaning junior hockey players cannot play college hockey in the US.

Washington’s department of labor is also investigating the five WHL teams in the state for child labor violations.

A ruling that WHL players much be paid a normal wage could cause significant financial disruptions for the Winterhawks, the only high-level competitive hockey team in Oregon, and other junior hockey organizations. High-level junior hockey is the most popular route for top hockey prospects on their way to the NHL. Those changes are a ways away, though, as it may take as much as a year for a Canadian judge to certify a class in the action, with even more time needed if there is a dispute over the case’s jurisdiction.

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