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WHY WE LOST JR A HOCKEY HERE IN “HOCKEYVILLE”
September 22, 2011Posted by on
Two years ago a councilor petitioned to enter Collingwood in CBC Hockey Night in Canada’s / Kraft Hockeyville contest. The winning community received $100 k in arena renovations for showing the nation why it was “the” hockey mecca of Canada.
Today Collingwood sits without a Jr hockey team for the first time since the early 1950’s, minor hockey registration is down significantly, and a single pad arena while historic, is outdated and woefully inadequate for today’s recreational community needs. Being a “hockey town” doesn’t just happen by itself, it takes a concerted effort. Previous town officials were very supportive
of hockey in Collingwood, a shining example of that was former Mayor Terry Geddes who was vocal and practical in his support of the minor and junior programs in town.
So why is Collingwood struggling? Let’s look at the loss of our Junior A team.
Junior hockey has been an integral part of the community for over 50 yrs, and was one of the oldest and most respected teams in the Ontario Hockey Association.
In a recent radio interview Mayor Cooper indicated that “there was just not enough attendance” for Jr A hockey. In fact the team remained a league leader in attendance while struggling on the ice with a top 5 overall average over the past three years. They also averaged over 18 000 fans per year between tryout camps, exhibition play, league play and tournaments and is estimated to have brought $450-500 000 to the downtown area. So contrary to the comments, Collingwood fans have consistently shown that hockey is very important to them.
A former Jr A team staff member was clear in his thoughts. “The town always supported us verbally, but did very little overall to support Jr A hockey. We had half the practice time most Jr A teams had, you can’t run Jr A with only 2 1/2 hour a week of practice when most teams have 5-10 hours per week. The town refused to issue us a license to operate our raffles last season…the only junior team in Ontario to be refused, they decided for the first time ever to not consider our AMFAP application, we lost our ability to operate a meaningful summer youth program with a policy change in summer ice camps. We were told the cost to the team was over $25 000 because of these decisions. And it wasn’t only financially they lost support. They had to hold our main camp interviews last season in the parking lot because the arena staff wanted to close up….all in all it became embarrassing trying to keep the team going.”
“ The cost to the team was at least $25 000 in our last season due to these kind of decisions.
In speaking with the Director of Hockey and owner of the team he was a little more vague “I’m not going to get into specifics but yes it between some loss of support and the continual increase in operations costs from the league….it would have been a $50-75k swing in our bottom line and we were struggling as it was. Many people don’t realize that there’s not a team in this league that makes money and most of them are owned by wealthy parents of players. We didn’t have that luxury here, we had to operate like a real team or business does. In 4 years of asking I never one person in Collingwood offer to come on board with me.”
An OJHL league official told us that Collingwood was contracted as part of a strategic plan to reduce the number of teams and increase the quality of play, but that he wasn’t happy about it. “When fans support a team like that, but the town cannot provide the resources it’s sad. We have communities coming to us right now that desperately want a team and are willing to provide everything necessary for success…but as a league we’re not comfortable they can create a fan base that makes this league better overall. We are looking for communities that can support their teams for the long-term in building the new OJHL”
“…over 18 000 fans per year and between tryout camps, exhibition play, league play and tournaments and is estimated to have brought $450-500 000 to the downtown area.”
So is junior level hockey finished in Collingwood?
Former team management did tell us that they would be making an application the Ontario Hockey Association to bring either a Jr B or C team in. “There are significant hurdles at the league level to do either” the former DOH says, “but I’m willing to make the effort and try. I’ve asked counsel for their support of an application by providing the resources necessary to operate a junior level team in todays league…it will be a town decision that makes or breaks the proposal. Council will have to make a decision as to whether this level of hockey is important to the people of this community. We cannot continually butt heads with them on trying to keep things running. The fans and supporters have shown it is important to them, now the town must decide if it’s going to listen to them. If council thinks someone is going to front a team without providing support, it won’t happen…..it doesn’t in the NHL, AHL, OHL…and doesn’t in the majority of towns that currently have junior level hockey across Canada. It’s a reality.”
Stay tuned to see what happens.