Minor hockey group gets minor victory over arena owners

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Rosie Mullaley
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But final result won’t be decided until Aug. 23 hearing

Lawyer Tracey Pasley chats with Avalon Minor Hockey Association president Aiden Craig and vice-presidents Mark Noseworthy and Chris Hickman at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s Monday. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

A minor hockey association has won the opening faceoff with arena owners in a legal dispute over icetime.

But the final buzzer hasn’t sounded just yet.

That result won’t be determined until late next week, when both sides go head-to-head in a hearing at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s.

If it isn’t successful in securing icetime at the Rogers Bussey Arena, the lawyer for the Avalon Minor Hockey Association said the program will cease to operate.

“Four hundred players, ages four to 18, play in this association,” Tracey Pasley told a judge in court Monday.

“This association has operated for four decades. It’s steeped in tradition. … But as of now, it doesn’t have any guaranteed icetime. The season is upcoming, with registration approaching.

“If (the association) is not able to secure icetime at (the arena), it will be necessary to fold.”

But the association was given some reason for optimism Monday, when Justice Gillian Butler granted a temporary injunction to have the association’s icetime usage agreement remain in force with the owners of Rogers Bussey Arena (formerly O’Hehir Arena).

The five-year agreement was signed in August 2012 — shortly after Rogers Bussey law firm took over operations — guaranteeing the association 44 hours of icetime a week at the arena, which has been the association’s home for the last number of years.

However, not long after the minor hockey season ended in the spring of this year, the association was notified by the arena’s owners that the contract was terminated as a result of a breach.

At the time, neither side was willing to divulge the reasons for the termination.

However, in court Monday, it was revealed that the arena owners claim the association did not use all its slotted icetime last season and owes more than $25,000 in unpaid icetime fees.

They say the association booked the icetime, but did not use it all.

The association claims it only owes $5,450.

More details about that and other issues will be heard at the Aug. 23 hearing.

Until then, the arena owners were ordered to hold off on renting the association’s allotted icetime to other groups.

Several members of the Avalon Minor Hockey Association were in the courtroom Monday to take in proceedings, including president Aiden Craig and vice-presidents Mark Noseworthy and Chris Hickman.

“There’s not a whole lot of joy in it because we’re talking about 400 minor hockey kids and we obviously want to get them back on the ice,” Craig told reporters outside court.

“But we’re pleased with what came out of it today.”

When asked about details of the dispute, Craig opted not to comment, saying more information will be divulged at the Aug. 23 hearing.

David Bussey, one of the arena owners who is also a St. John’s defence lawyer, told reporters the heart of the issue is that the Avalon Celtics did not use and pay for all their scheduled icetime last season.

“As a rink owner, we have a responsibility to make sure we rent all our time and get paid for all our time so we can continue to operate the rink,” he said.

“It’s a very expensive operation and for the good for everyone else who wants to use it, we have to make sure every single hour we can rent, we do sell.”

Ian Kelly, the lawyer representing the arena owners, told the judge that the owners have already made commitments for icetime to other groups, including two major midget teams — the St. John’s Maple Leafs and St. John’s Pioneers. But the association’s lawyer said there was no evidence of that brought forward.

In rendering her decision, the judge said there seemed to be “personal conflicts that have stood in the way.” She told both sides to make an attempt to resolve the issue before next week’s hearing.

Both Craig and Bussey agreed to try. However, Bussey said, “We’ve been trying since April to do that very thing on five separation occasions. … We really did work very, very hard to work this out.

“But she told the parties (they) have to go away to try and work this out and that’s what we intend to do.”

“We certainly hope it will be resolved (before the Aug. 23 hearing).”

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Rogers Bussey Arena, Avalon Minor Hockey Association, Maple Leafs

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