Four teams leave NLSHL

Matt Molloy
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Cataracts, Flyers, Caribous, Royals out of provincial senior league

The provincial hockey world was rocked earlier this week with the news four teams have left the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League. 

An email obtained by The Compass dated June 1 indicated the Western Royals, Gander Flyers, Clarenville Caribous and Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts have pulled out of the six-team league, leaving only the Conception Bay North EastLink CeeBee Stars and Mount Pearl Blades.  

According to The Compass, the email was supposedly written by league president Neil Norcott, and was sent to more than a dozen team officials.

George Scott, communications manager with the Cataracts, said the main reason why the Cataracts decided to join the other three teams and pull out of the NLSHL was finances.

“First and foremost it’s the cost,” said Scott, who added travelling to the Avalon for games proved to be very costly. “I think there were rumblings throughout the season last year among the teams what it was costing, the fact attendance was down, and everybody’s budget was getting squeezed. There was some talk they might be better off if they went back to the old West Coast league, especially with Gander in there now. Geographically, in terms of travel, Gander being there saves a lot of cost for a lot of people.”

Ross Coates, general manager with the Western Royals, told The Telegram one of the reasons for the move was to increase league-wide attendance by tightening the geography, reducing travel costs and reinforcing rivalries among teams in the western and central areas of the province.

Scott didn’t disagree with Coates’ assessment, and believes fans didn’t seem to buy into the provincial senior league that’s been around the past three years.

“I didn’t feel the same passion among the fans. I really didn’t,” said Scott. “With the West Coast league, you’re seeing teams more often. The biggest rival for the Cataracts has been the Clarenville Caribous. That’s what always drew the biggest numbers…but we only saw them once this past season. When we went to Clarenville, it was at the end of the season, it was a make-up game, and it was a meaningless game. We need to get back to seeing each other more often, and maybe familiarity will breed a little more contempt…and put some more bums in the seats again.”

There were times last season when the Cataracts spent back-to-back weekends on the road, which meant fans in Grand Falls-Windsor had to go long periods of time before attending a home game.

Although the Cats have the benefit of having their own web and audio casts, Scott said nothing compares to being at a live game.

“I think we did a better job than some of the other teams with coverage, which is what our audio cast was designed to do, but it’s not the same as having games at home,” he said. “It’s tough to maintain that same connection if you’re gone for three weeks.”

With the four teams out of the provincial league, fans have been waiting to hear what’s going to happen with senior hockey in their respective towns.

There have been rumblings of a new four-team league being formed, and Scott believes that’s the direction it’s heading, with the goal being the same — to win the Herder Memorial Trophy at the end of the season.

“That’s the intention of the four teams, to go back to the way it was with the old West Coast league,” he said. “With Gander in now, we would have a four-team league with teams playing each other on a regular basis. We have people asking about the Herder, and the intention is to certainly compete for the Herder.”

“We need to get back to seeing each other more often, and maybe familiarity will breed a little more contempt…and put some more bums in the seats again.” George Scott

The ideal situation, according to Scott, would be to have the winning team coming out of the West Coast league to play the winner coming out of the Avalon East league.

Although that’s the ideal situation, Scott said a few things have to happen in order for it to become the actual situation.

“If Mount Pearl and the CeeBees want to continue in senior hockey and if they could find a home in the Avalon East league again — but that’s up to those guys in that league — that would be the ideal situation,” said Scott. “You would have the winner out of the Avalon league play the winner of the West Coast league for the Herder, as they did for a number of years.”

Four years ago, the Cataracts played the CeeBees in the Herder Memorial Trophy final, with the Cats being the West winners and the CeeBees the Avalon winners.

Scott remembers that series fondly, and remembers the hype that came with it.

“There was tremendous hype and a great deal of excitement. The two teams hadn’t seen each other all year, and both teams were wondering what they were up against. The Cataracts had heard about the CeeBees and the CeeBees heard about the Cataracts, so it’s like, let’s put your best up against our best and see what happens.

“If you go back to the two leagues competing against each other, now you’ve got a little more invested interest. The hope is that would bring a little more excitement back to the Herder, because it has dropped off the last number of years.”

Caught off-guard

Three years ago, the Blades and CeeBees left the Avalon East Senior Hockey League — and not in the friendliest of partings — to become part of the NLSHL.

When asked if a return to the Avalon East was possible, Blades' vice-president Jim Hare said his club was still trying to absorb what was happening with the breakup of the NLSHL.

"We're sort of befuddled," said Hare. "How could they disband the league without consulting two of the teams that were part of the league?

"And there was no consultation, by the league or any of the other teams. This has caught us off-guard. We had no idea this was happening. No idea.

"We were definitely back-doored on this."

CeeBees president Nick Saunders had the same reaction.

"We were shocked," Saunders told Nick Mercer of The Compass/TC•Media. "We had no idea this was taking place."

Saunders said the news was particularly surprising given the Allan Cup national senior championship tournament is scheduled for Clarenville in 2015.

"If this had've been next year and we were having this conversation, I think it would have been a little bit less of a surprise," he said.

Both Hare and Saunders said their teams are proceeding with plans to operate for the 2014-15 season.

"We still do have every intention to ice a CeeBees team next season," said Saunders.

But just where they and the Blades will operate is the big question.

matthew.molloy@advertisernl.ca

Twitter: @TiserSports

Organizations: The Compass, The Telegram, Avalon East Senior Hockey League

Geographic location: West Coast, Clarenville, Avalon East Grand Falls Mount Pearl

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  • Jerry "Stats" Elliott
    June 07, 2014 - 05:02

    You knew this was going to happen. With the money being sent lately, the same thing happen to the league back in the late 1980's. Teams pay a premium in payroll to try and win the Herder, however, their is only so much money to go around. As you probably know, I have been a fan and supporter of senior hockey since the 1960's and money has always been an issue, and when you can keep up with the costs changes are made and some are tougher to make than others. I hope the CeeBees & Blades can join the Avalon East League as Senior Hockey is still a great game to watch.