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QMJHL Commissioner Mario Cecchini (left) gifted a Sea Dogs jersey by team president Trevor Georgie (right). Image: Regis Phillips

QMJHL commissioner makes first visit to the Maritimes

By Regis Phillips Jan 12, 2024 | 3:32 PM

Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) commissioner Mario Cecchini made his first visit to the Maritimes this week.

The Montreal, Que., native was named commissioner in March 2023 following the resignation of Gilles Courteau amid hazing scandal in the league.

Before that, Cecchini served as president of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and had a 15-year career working for multiple media companies.

“I got a call when the news broke about Gilles was stepping down in 18 months. My daughter, who’s 24, said I always wanted to work with kids, and that hits you. It’s close to home,” said Cecchini.

Cecchini said he has several long-term goals for the league, which include player safety and academic studies.

“Usually when you come into a job, they talk about the first 100 days. You check out the lay of the land and where you wanna go. I asked for 180 days because my list is very long,” he said.

“We want to look internally how we look at the business, everything we can do about student athletes because the players are in an environment where the contact is hard, and we want to make sure there’s anything and everything we can do to improve the equipment, like a helmet with a chip in it for example, so we’ll explore that.”

Cecchini also stands with the league’s fighting ban, which came into effect in 2023.

“Sometimes you have to make choices you know will not be necessarily popular among those who are on the ice, just like the neck guard. It’s our responsibility to project as much as we can, whether they see it or not. Maybe some players would like to play without pants. Guy Lafleur used to play without shoulder pads,” he said.

“Things change; times evolve. Fifteen years ago there was a huge goalie fight. Those were the days when we would get 600 to 700 fights out of 612 games per year. Through the years, we were down to 86 fights out of 600 games last year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big boxing fan, I just don’t think fighting should be a strategy. Today, I think fans wanna see speed, skill and good bodychecks, not kneeing, not cross-checking bodychecks,” Cecchini added.

One of Cecchini’s short-term goals was changing the name of the QMJHL to include the Maritimes.

“I’m very happy that it had the impact it did and the name change was on the table for a long time. I’m in my first month flying back from (the Memorial Cup in) Kamloops in June and the conversation of a name change came up with the person I was flying with and it makes total sense,” he said.

“The first owners’ meeting took place in September and everyone agreed on the name change, but we didn’t want to drop the logo. I won’t get into details but changing the league logo takes about two years in advance. I didn’t want to wait that long and wanted to keep the letters.

“In one of our brainstorming meetings, we noticed, ‘Hey there’s an M in there.’ Then we had debates about the name. Some mentioned Eastern Hockey League, but we also wanted to project Quebec, so the name was in the name, it went from the Quebec Major Júnior Hockey League to the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League.”

Cecchini concluded his visit by detailing the chances of the QMJHL expanding and relocating rumours.

“For those who don’t know, the Memorial Cup host is chosen by a committee. I’m not on the committee, I nominate the teams that know their cities well, and anyone can nominate,” he said.

“The idea of a new team is 2030. It’s part of the long-term plans. We are very conscious of our pool of players, and we wanna make sure the great show we put on the ice remains.”