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Former Prince George Cougars goalie suing CHL, WHL

A new class-action lawsuit alleges Canadian major junior hockey leagues violate antitrust laws in the United States by colluding to restrict the negotiation powers of players.
Isaiah DiLaura of the Prince George Cougars in 2019.

A former Prince George Cougars goaltender is part of a new class-action lawsuit alleging Canadian major junior hockey leagues violate antitrust laws in the United States by colluding to restrict the negotiation powers of players.

The two former major junior players part of the suit are Isaiah DiLaura and Tanner Gould. DiLaura, 23, is from Lakeville, Minn., and Gould, 19, is from Calgary.

DiLaura played in 36 games for the Cougars over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. 

The suit was filed Wednesday in New York by the North American division of the World Association of Ice Hockey Players Unions.

It alleges players are subject to systemic abuses, including the artificial reduction of compensation and conducting involuntary drafts, where a team can obtain an athlete's exclusive major junior rights without the presence of a collective bargaining agreement.

The plaintiffs allege the system is "a cartel (that) artificially suppresses and standardizes compensation by denying players their freedom of choice, freedom of movement and freedom to play for the club of their choice."

The Canadian Hockey League and its three major junior circuits — the Western Hockey League, Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League, the league the Prince George Cougars play in — are named as defendants in the lawsuit. 

The NHL is also named as a "co-conspirator." The lawsuit alleges the NHL colludes with major junior leagues to prevent its players from finding employment in minor professional leagues like the American Hockey League or the ECHL, while those circuits actively recruit under-20 players from Europe.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to enforce the geographical draft restrictions, contracts and agreements in place, along with damages for players for compensation and from league profits. Plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial.

The allegations have not been tested in court.

The CHL said in a statement it had only been made aware of the complaint Wednesday, adding the World Association of Ice Hockey Players Unions has not been certified to represent any of the players in its leagues.

"Until we can thoroughly review the document, we are unable to provide comment as to the legitimacy of its contents," the statement read.

Eight of the CHL's 60 teams are based in the U.S. — five in Washington state, two in Michigan and one in Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit alleges the three major junior league maintain a system that gives a league exclusive rights to recruit within a geographic territory, eliminating competition between the leagues despite being independent entities under the CHL umbrella.

The competition among clubs is further reduced by the way leagues handle their entry drafts, the lawsuit claims.

"In an involuntary draft, players may be drafted even if they did not apply to participate in the draft, with the end result being that the drafting club will enjoy the exclusive rights to that player for the entirety of his major junior hockey career," the lawsuit states.

The lack of bargaining power for major junior players allows clubs, many of which are financially successful, to artificially reduce compensation, the lawsuit alleges.

"Teenage players continue to be treated like disposable objects, just like I was," DiLaura said in a news release. "I am hoping this lawsuit will put an end to that."

A $30-million settlement between the CHL, its leagues and players seeking back pay for minimum wage was reached in Canada in 2020. But judges in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta refused to sign off on the agreement.

The judges objected to wording in the settlement they said was too broad and could prevent the players from pressing other legitimate claims.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

The Canadian Press