By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
Brennan Yadlowski is busy preparing for his freshman season at the University of Alberta. The former Everett Silvertips defenseman will play for the Golden Bears, using the scholarship he earned during his five seasons playing in the WHL.
However, Yadlowski can’t help wondering what could have been. That’s why he’s a supporter of the efforts being made to create a union for major junior hockey players.
Plans to create a Canadian Hockey League Players Union (CHLPA) have come to light in recent weeks, and Yadlowski was one of the first players involved in those efforts.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming,” said Yadlowski, who completed his WHL eligibility last season. “The guys have always joked about forming a players association.”
News of the CHLPA’s existence broke two weeks ago, along with its intentions to organize the approximately 1,300 players in the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque was announced as the organizations first executive director. Among the union’s goals are a greater percentage of revenues going toward the players, better working conditions and improved education packages.
However, the CHLPA’s rollout has been anything but smooth. The organization’s backers remain anonymous. Laraque no-showed for his first two media appearances. The organization claimed the majority of players were already on board, but when asked most of the players had never heard of the CHLPA. CHLPA statements issued to the media have lacked editing, and the media has responded with skepticism.
CHL president David Branch, who was unaware of the CHLPA’s existence prior to it going public, responded with a statement defending the league’s treatment of its players, as well as stating that a union would have to negotiate with each team individually rather than the league as a whole.
Everett general manager Garry Davidson was limited in what he could say about the situation: “The Western Hockey League as a league is dealing with it. My biggest comment is that I think for the most part the Western Hockey League has done a terrific job of addressing the issues and needs of the player, and are continuing to do that on a regular basis.”
But Yadlowski believes more can be done for the players. Yadlowski first heard from representatives of the CHLPA in February.
“About six months ago I got a call from a lawyer on their end,” Yadlowski said. “He said I was the first guy they contacted in the west. He explained what they were trying to do, which had mostly to do with the education package. They said to keep it quiet, and when it got leaked they weren’t ready to come out. I hadn’t heard from them since the first couple calls until just before it was leaked.”
For Yadlowski, who emphasized that he never felt mistreated during his nearly two seasons in Everett, the sticking point is the education package. Players in the WHL receive one year’s worth of college tuition paid for each season played in the league. However, the player must use his scholarship within 18 months of his WHL career coming to an end. If it’s not used within that time, it’s lost for good.
“For me it’s mostly about the education package,” Yadlowski said. “It’s the best in Canada, but it can always be improved. Only having 18 months to use it is a little restricting. Money’s also a big part of this, but that’s not what I’m all about. There’s been talk about things like revenue sharing, and I think that’s too much for the small-market teams. It’s more about the education for me.”
For Yadlowski, taking advantage of his scholarship meant forgoing an opportunity to play professionally.
“I had talked about a contract with a team in the ECHL,” Yadlowski said. “But I couldn’t sign because I didn’t want to lose my education.
“It would have been nice (to give pro hockey a try),” Yadlowski added. “In my mind I would have liked to have seen what could have happened for a couple years. But it was too hard to pass up on my education.”
Yadlowski hasn’t been involved in the guts of the CHLPA’s formation. The extent of his involvement was mentioning the organization’s existence to his Everett teammates late last season. Yadlowski’s mention was the extent to which the veteran members of Everett’s current roster knew about the CHLPA prior to the organization being made public.
“I’m just a voice for the players, I guess,” Yadlowski said.
But even though Yadlowski is no longer a WHL player, he still feels a responsibility to aid those following in his footsteps.
“It’s a moral thing,” said Yadlowski, who plans on remaining involved with the CHLPA going forward. “It affected me, and it just feels like the right things to do, to help out as much as I can. Having played with those guys, it would be cool to help make things better for everyone in the WHL.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.