A Tier 1 Conversation with Michael Hritzuk

Michael Hritzuk, Sherwood Park Outlaws JrB General Manager, was sent the following questions (low key rant)…

What do you feel the stigma is around “Junior B”? I mean, when I was introduced to the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League (RMLL) it was through the Jr B Titans. It was explained to me that a fair share of the players are jr a calibre but simply don’t have the time to put into the needed practices to be allowed to compete at that level. How do you sell that to perspective fans?

When people hear “jr b” people think second tier. Am I wrong? How can this be corrected? How does one put a big league spin on what I feel is a curse of label in Jr B?

Here is Michael’s calm, well thought out answer…

“This is a big question. With a lot of facets.

Junior A should absolutely be considered top of the list #1. But how do you brand “second place” as high quality? As a division we’ve discussed re-branding before and dropping the Junior B moniker and just using Tier 1. Part of the issue with terminology is we could choose regionally what we want to call ourselves, but nationally the different tiers are already branded from the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) down.

The other challenge with terminology is no matter what you call yourself, you can’t easily persuade others to get on board. I do think a name change such as this would remove some of the immediate perception of Tier 1 being second rate. Tier 1 next to Junior A makes both sound top class while allowing Junior A the prestige it deserves. Perception based on the name is only a small piece of the puzzle though.

The bigger influence on the acknowledgement of Tier 1 being a quality product in the region resides in the continual struggle to put quality Junior A teams on the floor. Junior A should consist primarily of seasoned 20-21 year olds with the odd exceptional younger outlier. In the Edmonton region that is not the case. In the last years of having two A teams (editor note, after the 2018 season the Edmonton Blues and St. Albert Miners amalgamated) in Edmonton there was up to 9 rostered 17 year olds between the two A teams. With just as many if not more 18 year olds.

Even though there are some older “A quality” players that chose to play Tier 1 for various reasons, the unbalanced younger A teams directly affect the quality and the perception of quality at the Tier 1 level both among fans and players. This hasn’t changed much with the contraction to one team.

The proper process for everyone’s benefit is to have younger players carded with a Tier 1 team and affiliate to A as much as possible. However due to the amount of players available and the turbulent history of Junior A in the region this doesn’t happen.

Junior lacrosse at all levels here is a pay to play league with limited sponsorship. Teams need to fill rosters with paying players in order to remain financially viable. So teams put players on their official rosters that should be affiliates. We are all guilty of this at all levels of Junior lacrosse in the Edmonton area.

Unfortunately, whether it is an A team rostering a player that truly should be at Tier 1 or a Tier 1 team rostering a player that belongs at Tier 2, player development is stunted and league quality goes down across the board from A through to Tier 2. I know of very very few players whose development was optimized by playing A in their first year.

More than anything Junior lacrosse is a 5 year developmental process. This process should have players starting at Tier 1 or Tier 2 with expectations/aspirations of playing A ball in their last 2 or 3 years.

Tier 1 is already a high quality product in the RMLL. It is arguably the best league to play in and to watch due to its size, (15 teams), rivalries and diversity. But it is a developmental league.

We desire our own success on the floor but are striving to advance players to the next level. This is already logistically difficult to manage when you know you are likely to lose a well developed player as he gets older, but it makes it significantly more difficult when you are losing 17 year olds to Junior A.

The Tier 1 product is very intense and entertaining to watch. The acknowledgement and perception of the quality will grow substantially if we continue to move toward proper development and placement of talent and strive for stability in the region. Tier 1 is a phenomenal league within the RMLL, but the better our associated divisions of Junior A and Tier 2 are, the better Junior B Tier 1 will be.

We are also trying to increase the big League perception of our league in others ways of promotion. This is mainly with uses of social media, podcasts and streaming games with the (Fort Saskatchewan) Rebels and the Crude paving the way and setting the bar.”

Thank you for your insightful and thought provoking response Mr. Hritzuk.

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