Canada’s top youth league set to return for ’21-22 season

Since its inception in 1911, the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) has seen its share of historic moments.

The 2020-21 season made history, in a way that nobody ever wanted to see.

After missing an entire season of hockey because of COVID-19, the GTHL — arguably the best youth hockey league in the entire world — is set to return for 2021-22, a welcomed sight for the Canadian hockey community.

In late August, the storied organization announced its “Game Plan 2.0” framework for returning to play this season, setting out how it plans to handle the unique environment North America still finds itself in during the battle with COVID-19. A substantial part of that plan is requiring vaccines for GTHL directors and staff, GTHL member executives and staff, team officials, timekeepers, on-ice officials, instructors, in-arena employees of the GTHL and players who were born in or before 2009 (barring medical or approved exemptions under the Ontario Human Rights Code).

The competitive divisions of the GTHL are slated to begin on November 1, while some of the house leagues and learn-to-play programs have an earlier start.

“The Game Plan 2.0 and the Vaccine Policy puts the safety and well being of players as the top priority as we begin the much-anticipated return to programming.” said Scott Oakman, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the GTHL. “Players, their families, and minor hockey associations are excited to be able to return to play and we are working hard at creating the safest environment for them.” 

A very robust return-to-play plan can be viewed here.

One of the highlights is that while face masks must be worn at all times inside facilities, players, team officials and on-ice officials will not be required to wear masks on the ice. Coaches must wear a face mask on the bench.

The 2019-2020 GTHL season was cancelled on March 12, 2020, and while plans were in place for a 2020-21 season, it did not come to fruition.

A return to play means that some of the best young players in the world get a chance to return to action during a crucial time for their career aspirations. The largest minor hockey league in the world, the GTHL annually showcases more than 40,000 hockey players in Markham, Mississauga, Toronto and Vaughan. 

The league has gone through a variety of changes as it has expanded over the years. Today, age groups start at Under-7 (the 2015 birth-year for this season) up through Under-18 (2004 and 2005 birth years) at the AAA, AA and A levels. The Under-14 through Under-17 AAA age groups are some of the most heavily scouted divisions of hockey in the entire world, with a recent alumni list featuring the likes of John Tavares, Jack and Quinn Hughes, Connor McDavid, Tyler Seguin and many, many more.

Even if you aren’t familiar with the league itself, you will surely have come across some of the member clubs. Storied programs like the Don Mills Flyers, Markham Majors, Mississauga Rebels, North York Rangers, Toronto Jr. Canadiens, Toronto Marlboros and Vaughan Kings are just some of the powerhouses routinely competing for GTHL titles. 

In every generation of GTHL alumni lists, the names jump off the page. In some of the early days, the likes of Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich and Ken Dryden stand out, and it only gets better from there.

In the 1970s, spectators of the GTHL got to see Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and Adam Oates. A few years later, it would be Adam Graves, Brendan Shanahan and Sean Burke. Blockbuster names continued, with Eric Lindros, Anson Carter, Mike Peca, Kevin Weekes and Jason Allison all spanning three birth years between 1973 and 1975. 

As the league continued to establish itself more and more as an international powerhouse, talent continued to appear and develop within its member programs. We won’t list them all, but just from a quick skim…check out these NHLers (with their birth year in parentheses):

Mike Cammalleri (1982)
Ray Emery (1982)
Jason Spezza (1983)
Rick Nash (1984)
Brent Burns (1985)
Andrew Cogliano (1987)
Wayne Simmonds (1988)
P.K. Subban (1989)
Sam Gagner (1989)
John Tavares (1990)
Alex Pietrangelo (1990)
Ryan O’Rielly (1991)
Tyler Seguin (1992)
Jeff Skinner (1992)
Dougie Hamilton (1993)
Max Domi (1995)
Darnell Nurse (1995)
Connor McDavid (1997)
Mitch Marner (1997)
Jakob Chychrun (1998)
Quinn Hughes (1999)
Jack Hughes (2001)

World Hockey Hub will have continued coverage of the GTHL, and other top youth leagues around the world all season long. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook for the latest news from the world of youth hockey.