After a friend’s cryptic email, a simple trademark application, and a little internet snooping, the news is out: a Junior B development hockey league is expanding to the Birmingham, Alabama, market this summer.
Resurrecting an old WHA / ECHL name, the Birmingham Jr Bulls will be the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League’s (MJHL) next expansion franchise. According to head coach John Bierchen, “It is for players 16-20 years of age looking to develop so that they may move on to NCAA college hockey and get an athletic scholarship.”
Tryouts are scheduled for June 17-19, 2011, in Pelham, Alabama. Friday’s session will include check in and off-ice testing. On-ice sessions will be held on Saturday and Sunday. Assisting with tryouts will be Vic Marconi, goaltending consultant and NHL off-ice official, and Nigel Kirwin, an assistant/video coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team is currently taking registrations for tryouts.
The Jr Bulls’ home barn will be the Pelham Civic Complex, about 20 minutes southeast of Birmingham’s city limits. Pelham is also the home ice of the University of Alabama’s Frozen Tide and has previously hosted the SEC (Southeastern Conference) tournament. For those unfamiliar with Alabama geography, the University of Alabama is located in Tuscaloosa, about 45 minutes southwest of Birmingham.
The MJHL consists of 25 teams in four divisions: Dowd, Francis, Mullen, and Southern. In fact, the league playoffs for the Keegan Cup were being held as this article was written (March 18-20, 2011). The four division winners compete for the Cup and will advance to the national tournament. There is also a wild card series that will earn one team a wild card slot at nationals.
The MJHL has produced a number of players who have played NCAA hockey and later in minor pro leagues as well as the NHL. Connor Anthoine of the Portland Jr Pirates has committed to play for the University of Vermont in 2011. The Ottawa Senators 2006 first round draft pick, Nick Foligno, is an alumni of the program’s Central Penn Panthers. Chris Higgins of the Vancouver Canucks and Michael Komisarek of the Toronto Maple Leafs are also alumni of the program, both playing with the Suffolk PAL. Others have played in the WCHL, ECHL, UHL, AHL, CHL, and other minor professional and European leagues as well as for collegiate hockey teams like UMass, Dartmouth, Merrimack, Denver, Fairfield, Cornell, Michigan, and others in Division I and III programs.
The MJHL is affiliated with USA Hockey and the Jr Bulls will finalize their affiliation by the fall.