The Manitoba Junior Hockey League is expanding to 12 teams for the upcoming 2020-21 season. The newest member club is the Winnipeg Freeze, which will be based out of Manitoba’s capital and owned by 50 Below Sports + Entertainment – the same group that already owns both the Western Hockey League’s recently relocated Winnipeg ICE and fellow MJHL squad Winnipeg Blues.
After indicating the inclusion of a new team for the coming season last week, 50 Below Sports + Entertainment made it official Thursday morning in announcing the team’s name, logos, sweater colours and designs. Social media accounts were provided, while links to ticket purchasing information as well as clothing/merchandise and gear were also provided.
The Freeze also announced that Josh Green will serve as the team’s head coach and general manager. Having spent the past two seasons working with 50 Below member teams (Winnipeg Blues 2018-19, Winnipeg ICE 2019-20), the 42-year-old former Manitoba Moose forward will bring a wealth of knowledge to the table for the 2020-21 season and beyond. Having skated in 341 NHL games, Green saw a 20-year professional career wrap up after four years of European hockey.
“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to be a head coach,”Green said in a team-issued press release Thursday morning. “It’s a great opportunity to work and develop young hockey players who are looking to forward their hockey careers.”
Keeping in line with the standards set by other MJHL clubs, the expansion team is midway through its identification camp, with team hopefuls suiting up on the ice for the Freeze from Tuesday to Thursday this past week. With tryout camps fully underway league-wide, the MJHL has been following strict COVID-19 protocol, as a way to help curb the spread of the virus, while managing to get its reps in for the coming season, set to begin on October 9.
Joining the new-look MJHL, the Freeze will be the league’s first expansion club since 1999, as the second MJHL club under 50-Below ownership will bring the league up to 12 teams for the first time since the folding of the St. James Canadians in 2003. In 1999, the Waywayseecappo Wolverines and Swan Valley Stampeders joined the league, which was home to 12 teams for four years.
“50 Below Sports + Entertainment, along with all of our member clubs, have really stepped up and put the players first to provide safe and competitive development conditions,” MJHL commissioner Kevin Saurette said in a league-issued press release. “These are trying times as teams continue with necessary preparations for the difficult season ahead as we are all committed to developing our players in a safe, structured and responsible environment.”
The implementation of a 12th team creates opportunities for a wider reach of Manitoban players to lace up in Junior ‘A’ action this fall, while also significantly assisting with the league’s Phase II of the return-to-play guidelines as per geographical positioning, divisional alignment, while also helping to limit travel as best as possible.
The 2020-21 season is set to begin on Friday, October 9, while training camps will open for each member team on Friday, September 18. Further information regarding the Winnipeg Freeze and the official 2020-21 MJHL schedule is also expected to be released within the coming week.