Future of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League

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Updated: December 19, 2013
Newfoundland Senior Hockey League | Newfoundland Hockey Talk

The Christmas break has arrived for the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League and from a standings perspective, there’s nothing that really stands out. The Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts are leading the way with 24 points and the Clarenville Caribous nipping out their heels just five points back. The defending Herder Memorial Champions – The Eastlink CeeBee Stars are near the back of the pack, tied with the Gander Flyers at 9-points.

The game on the ice has been chippy and slow at times, entertaining and explosively fast other times.

However, it’s not the on-ice portion of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League that one should be concerned about. Each team has their loyal fans who come out to watch their favourite sport. It is the off-ice antics that has many people worried.

It’s no secret that running a team in the NLSHL is expensive and team finances are always one of the hottest discussed topics on our discussion forum. Teams actively fundraise and seek sponsors but the rumors that have been circulating as of late has most of the team insiders talking more and more about the future of the league. If these rumors are to be believed, most (not all) of the teams are struggling financially.

Two of the most successful teams in the league are the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and the Clarenville Caribous. The Cats are on solid ground with a packed house most of their games, a solid base of season ticket holders, great sponsors and a great group of volunteers leading the charge. The success of this team’s approach has led to others such as the Gander Flyers to mimic the working formulas.

The Caribous exploded onto the Newfoundland Senior Hockey scene several years back. Their fan support was like no other seen before, their team was young, speedy and backed by one of the best goalies from the island in Jason Churchill. What is alarming is that this team is apparently now feeling the crunch both financially and from its volunteer base. Insiders have indicated things are not well and that there are several executive members poised to leave the organization after the Allan Cup commitments are fulfilled. What’s more alarming is that the team has started some belt-tightening measures in order to curtail some of its expenses and lower its operating costs.

At the beginning of the season there was major speculation whether or not the CeeBee Stars were going to be in the league. It was having trouble selling season tickets which when you consider they are the defending Herder Memorial Champions, is amazing. They should never have had any trouble drawing fan support yet, the rumors of this team folding before the season started was extremely worrisom. These rumors haven’t gone away and there’s still speculation as to whether they will finish the season or fold shortly into the new year. Given what’s been shared with Newfoundland Hockey Talk, the latter seems very unlikely at this moment but their return to the NLSHL in the 2014-2015 is in the air right now.

The Mount Pearl Blades took a year off from the league to reorganize. They have been showing some great successes thus far and they appear to have their operations a little more in check than they did previously. Some are still questioning whether they are on solid ground financially. They are also in a unique position of having to compete with the St. John’s IceCaps for fan support. If they are to continue to play in the league they must find a way to draw bigger crowds and utilize the large population base in their area to put them on much firmer financial ground.

Turning to the Western Royals, one has to still question their move to Deer Lake. Fans from Corner Brook have continued to voice their displeasure with this move and the team seems to be only drawing limited support from Corner Brook. The smaller arena has reduced some of their costs and they have made some key acquisitions to firm up their aging line-up. However, if the emails received here at Newfoundland Hockey Talk are any indication, the savings realized in Deer Lake have not been as great as they have expected and has not translated into a better bottom-line for the organization. There are apparent talks of moving back to Corner Brook for the playoffs if the team makes it that far in hopes of capitalizing on the larger gate that the Pepsi Centre may bring.

The Gander Flyers are the newest entry into the league. They have built a loyal fan base, they have great sponsorship but from what Newfoundland Hockey Talk is being told, behind the scenes they are struggling to find volunteers and had underestimated what it would cost to play with the big boys in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League. While the team continues to show improvement and become competitive each game, one has to wonder if there is enough time for this team to survive in the long run.

Newfoundland Hockey Talk has said for many years that the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League offers one of the great values for your entertainment dollar and some of the greatest hockey available. Still there has to be a better effort to get costs down, embrace more local talent, offer families a reason to come to the games and to do more things to support the leage (and teams) off the ice with community outreach.

Saving the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League goes beyond reducing your costs a few hundred dollars a game by eliminating game-day programmes. Saving the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League has to be about embracing the grass roots of the game and making it fun again.

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