Royals Signal End of League?

Updated: August 26, 2016

The Newfoundland senior hockey community was dealt a major blow with the Corner Brook Royals announcing they would not compete in the 2016-17 season in the West Coast Senior Hockey League.  Ross Coates and his dedicated volunteers kept hockey alive here on the West Coast for the last several years.  They are to be commended for their efforts.

What many did not realize that behind the scene with the Royals was another great hockey mind – Terry Croucher.  Croucher has been around Newfoundland hockey circles for a long time and has a great understanding of the game & the politics of the game.  Like Coates, he had sponsored the team and di what he could to keep the Royals on the ice.

In recent days since the Royals announcing they would not ice a team this season, Croucher has become vocally critical of the league, officiating and the backroom politics, especially around one contentious incident last season – the Rodi Short hit on the Corner Brook Royals’ Ryan Salvis.  While it was no secret that the Royals were not happy with the hit and the league itself, Croucher felt the league’s handling of the situation was wrong and felt that there was not being enough done to protect players.  He felt it was time to make a statement and that he did when interviewed by CBC’s Brian McHugh.  You can listen to the CBC Interview here.

While that incident & Croucher’s interview form the backdrop to this article, I am not going to rehash what had happened.

This article is about the beginning of the end that has been caused by the West Coast Senior Hockey League itself.  The league needed the Royals to compete this year.  Without the Royals, there is a high likelihood that senior hockey has come to an end (again), on the West Coast of the island.

The West Coast Senior Hockey League has always been one of the most competitive leagues across Canada.  It has always put a great product on the ice and has always offered value for the ticket price.

In its current form, this league lacks leadership, direction and the desire to survive.

The league does nothing to promote itself or the teams.  The league consistently bows to the pressures of HNL and to a select few people behind the scenes.  The league is ripe with individuals promoting their own agenda and who fail to recognize just how fragile things are.

Imagine what it would be like to have the leadership promoting the league, teams, games, rivalries and the players.  Instead, we have teams that find themselves fundraising 12 months of the year to survive instead of being part of a “league” that is out working on their behalf.  We have witnessed the league bend to the whims of HNL.  Remember that horrible experiment with the Herder being played in Corner Brook & Mile One?

Why hasn’t the league looked into offering league sponsored webcasts & radio broadcasts?  Advertising dollars could be shared among the teams.  Instead, each team is left to once again fend for themselves.

Why hasn’t the league hired a marketing, communications or public relations person?  It makes sense to me that the league would want to pass information to the media, promote its brand and the product that is on the ice.  People would not be left to wonder about decisions around suspensions, playoff series, upcoming games, fundraising and just general league news.   This person could work with the teams to develop a “fan friendly” and “family friendly” environment that would keep bums in the seats game after game.

Instead, the league basically festers in its own filth.  It has become a pseudo-political beast that as Croucher indicated in his interview, has done very little to protect the integrity of the game and to ensure that hockey remains on the west coast.  It has failed to address poor officiating and posturing by some teams.  It has allowed teams to gain an unfair competitive advantage with respect to imports, player signings and just overall political nastiness behind the scenes.

Some teams (not all), systematically try to twist and maneuver around decisions.  They are more focused on winning for the sake of winning without understanding how these moves are perceived in the public forum which they operate.

Yes, sport is competitive.

However, teams have to realize when they attempt to “influence” a decision in their favour or bend the rules to their advantage, they are harming the league.  Yet it happens time and time again and the league allows this to continue.

Fans are not oblivious to these political maneuvers.  Team “insiders” talk.  The persistent whining and complaining does not go unnoticed and it does nothing more than drive the fans away from the arenas.  No one wants to support a team that is the consummate complainer with the “I want” attitude.  No one wants to see a team stoop to levels so low that it hinders teams in other areas.

You do not have to look very far to find one team sticking it to another.

One team last season paid a high profile player to sit home instead of releasing him and allowing another team access to this great import.

Yes, you read that right.

In a league where every team apparently operates on razor thin budgets paying players to stay home and sit, rather than letting them play elsewhere makes absolutely no sense.  Then fans of this team hurl accusations around that the Royals attempted to buy a Herder Championship and that is the reason they cannot ice a team this year.  Then there are representatives from some teams complaining that the level of spending in the league is going to kill it.

Guess what?  It is not the operating costs that are going to kill the league.  It is the league’s attitude around letting things like this occur and the mentality that some teams have towards sticking it to your competition regardless of the long term consequences.

As Croucher also indicated in his interview, the league has to address the piss-poor officiating and disciplinary actions (on & off the ice).  This last season, the officiating was anything but horrific.  There were numerous blatant infractions that occurred – no calls.  There were calls made by one of the referees 50 feet from the play when the referee standing next to the play did nothing.  There have been incidents where players have been injured with no calls and others where it has been obvious things have been embellished that receives attention.  The Short-Salvis incident highlighted just how broken the league in this respect.

While the Corner Brook Royals booster club insists it will be back in the 2017-18 season, fans in the area should not hold their breath.  The Deer Lake Red Wings indicated they were taking a year off to get their financial state in order for the following season.  They have never returned.

The burden now falls on the shoulders of three teams.  One of those teams almost withdrew from the league last year when they ran into financial difficulty around the Christmas break.  One of the other teams has so much volunteer fatigue, there were questions surrounding whether or not they would be back this season.

The Royals withdrawal from the West Coast Senior Hockey league is a devastating blow for senior hockey as we have grown to love it in our neck of the woods.  Get out; enjoy the games this season if you are fortunate enough to have a team to support.  This is likely the last time you will get the opportunity.

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