History of the CMHL PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 06 June 2009
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Stan Papulkas
Toronto’s ethnic communities get to celebrate their diversity in the most Canadian of ways in December – with a hockey tournament.  But it won’t be one of the many tournaments that dot the busy hockey calendar at the end of the year.  It will be a multicultural affair with over 40 teams representing various communities in the Greater Toronto Area vying for the newly established “Canadian Cup”.  The games scheduled for December 27 to December 30, will be played in the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Tournament (Championships). 

To bring all this off, a small group of people, lead by Television Executive Producer Stanley Papulkas, has been working feverishly behind the scenes establishing the Canadian Multicultural Hockey League (CMHL), to organize teams, arrange schedules, devise rules and regulations and setting up promotions.         

All this is a dream come true for Papulkas, the television producer who himself is the son of immigrant parents.  He’s had the idea of a multicultural hockey league percolating in his mind for nearly twenty-five years. Time wasn’t right In 1981, Papulkas started working for CFMT Multilingual Television (now called OMNI), as an isolation director for live broadcasts of Canadian Italian Hockey League games.  He approached Louis Janetta, President of the Canadian Italian Hockey League about setting up games between communities, but the time wasn’t yet ripe for such a venture. 

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Macedonians vs Italian (1980's)
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Italian & Macedonian All Star Game
But the time came a few years later, in the mid 1980’s when the Macedonians and the Italians what became an annual charity match between their respective all star teams “Those games drew 3,000 fans and this is when I knew that this concept would work” he said.   Still, the timing wasn’t right.


But that soon came, with, all of things, a soccer game.The occasion came when Greece played Portugal in the European Cup soccer championships.  “I knew the timing was right when the celebration began on the Danforth with Greece’s victory, he said.“But not only did the Greeks celebrate, the Portuguese joined the Greeks on the Danforth and the Greeks in turn went to the Portuguese community to celebrate there,” he said.  “We were celebrating as Canadians!”Papulkas decided that he was no longer going to talk about it, but to get on with it. 

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Adnan Virk hosts 1st meeting
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GM's discuss tournament format
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Ruling on eligible players
He took his proposal to the multicultural communities, and response he got sealed the deal. The Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships held its first general meeting on February 26, 2004 at Wayne Gretzky's Restaurant in Toronto.  The meeting included CMHL organizers, as well as several groups partipating in the championships.  Much of the meeting focused on team names, logos, tournament format and charitable organizations. 

A Finnish hockey team called The Finnishers was the first to agree to join the league.  Then followed a Russian team called “The Kremlins” as well as the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans.  Papulkas admitted he was surprised at the response he was getting.  “What started out trying to get six teams, turned out to be eight, then ten, then twelve and then sixteen.  I had to stop.  We didn’t have enough ice or manpower to continue,” he said.The result wasn’t surprising since multicultural Toronto had become one of the most diverse cities in the world.  In 1961 visible minorities only made up three percent of Toronto population. 

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It was end ot end action
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It was also a defensive battle
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Russians win 3-1
To test this concept out, an exhibition game was organized between two hockey nations with a historic rivalry.  Over 100 screaming fans turned up at Chesswood Arena on March 12, 2005 to see the Russian community (Kremlins) challenge the Finnish community (The Finnishers) in the very first hockey game organized under the umbrella of the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships. 

Today, 60% of the residence surveyed identified as belonging to a minority group.  Over 100 languages are now spoken in the Metro Toronto area.  Hockey has obviously had a Canadianizing impact on many of the communities, and Papulkas has seen evidence of that first hand.Inquiries about the league poured in, with a lot of surprises.  “I’m very proud of having a South Asian team in the tournament” he said.  “A lot of people will be surprised at the quality of players they have on their roster.”Papulkas said he also got inquiries from a Guyanese team, a Lithuanian team as well as some teams made up of Filipinos and Australians.  And some groups decided not to join as they felt they weren’t good enough at this time.  “I had a few communities decline, because they didn’t believe they could compete at a high level,” he said.  “Some communities were just too new for hockey, others just too small.”And for some groups, the time wasn’t right or they didn’t fit the league’s requirements.  Some had difficulty in meeting the league’s requirements that all players must come from their respective heritages.           

“The Jewish community really wanted to be part of the tournament in it's first year, but declined because the final game was to be scheduled on a Friday afternoon which could lead into their Sabbath” he said. The CMHL respects and will honour each communities cultural and religious differences.  This championship is not about country versus country; it’s about Canadians playing Canadians.  A number of teams from the United States have requested to participate in the championships, but Papulkas said he had to turn them down.  “I had to decline because this tournament is not about country versus country.  It is about Canadians playing Canadians.  If an American team entered from the US, then we would defeat the purpose of this tournament.”

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Icelandic team wins Gold (1920)
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Chinese Hockey Team (1940's)
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Macedonian Team (1940's)
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Japanese Neisei Flyers (1940's)
Multicultural hockey is not a new concept in Canada.  In 1920, the Winnipeg Falcons, a team consisting of Icelandic heritage players won Canada's first ever gold medal in the Olympics.  In the 1940's, there consisted of an all Chinese team, an all Macedonian team.  The Japanese Canadians have had a community-based league since the 1940’s, the longest-running league established in 1961 at still running at George Bell Arena in Toronto.  But even the Japanese team General Manager, Wayne Yamashita, had doubts about joining the league, despite the long history in the community.  “When I went to the first meeting, I thought the (hockey) level was going to be too high.  In our league, there are not many younger players out there, and if there are, they weren’t that good,”  he said.             

“So I told Stan that I couldn’t do it, but he called me to reassure me that there was talent out there,” he said.  “So, I phoned around and found that a lot of friends kids were old enough to play and found a lot of AAA and AA players among them,” he said.  An unexpected benefit has come from forming the team.  It’s great because a lot of these players never knew or play with other Japanese Canadians,” Yamashita said.The Italian league has also been running since at least the 1950’s or 1960’s. 

The Macedonians had a league that last twenty five years.  It is still trying to re-start the league as a result of new interest coming as a result of the multicultural championships.  The Chinese community not only have a strong teamin the Chinese Ice Dragons, but Jeff Chang, the former GM of the Ice Dragons runs an Asian Hockey Tournament every May for the last 20 years. With such established roots, some strong players have emerged from the communities. 

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Carnagie supports the CMHL
As part of its commitment to unite national sports with cultural univity both on an off the ice, the CMHL has developed a number of rules to encourage fair play and respect amongst players and fans, which in the long run, can lead to more positive cultural relations.  In it's inaugural year in 2005, the CMHL and Herbert H. Carnagie joined forces in lieu of its mission to "foster better relations."

As a semi-professional player with the Sherbrooke Saints, Mr. Carnagie was voted most valuable player three times.  Later he went on to become a star hockey player with the Quebec Aces in the Quebec Senior Hockey League.  However, his dream to play in the NHL went unfullfilled due to the unwritten rule of the time that forbade Mr. Carnagie an NHL tryout because of his race.

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Carnagie honoured at 2005 finals
On his feelings towards the formation of the CMHL, Mr. Carnagie said:  "at a time when we desperately need people to come together, to work together, the CMHL is setting an example of how nations can come together in a peaceful manner to have fun and demonstrate what being human is about.  Therein lays the true essence of the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships.  It presents itself as a world class model of how a country that knows no ethnic or cultural barriers can brings its people together in proud and harmonious unity through its favourite national sport, hockey. 

As for future, Papulkas admits he has done some crystal ball gazing “I’m not going to tell you it hasn’t crossed my mind” he says.  “But first things first.  Toronto has the most diverse communities.  But there could be leagues in Montreal and Vancouver.  How about the winner from each city playing for the Canadian Cup?”

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Hockey Hall of Fame Honours CMHL
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Canadian Cup displayed at HHOF
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All team jerseys on display

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 05 January 2011 )