A year after being frozen out of the Herder Memorial Trophy championship series, a team from the Avalon East Senior Hockey League will be back in the mix for the 2013 provincial senior hockey final.
Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador announced a series of significant changes to the province’s senior hockey structure Thursday, not the least of which was re-classifying the AESHL as a senior A circuit. It had been listed as a senior B league last season, and as such, could not compete for the Herder.
“I think people have realized, that to a certain degree, we fixed something that wasn’t broken last year,” says David Brazil who was elected by acclimation as the new Avalon East president at the league’s annual general meeting Thursday in Torbay.
The league had nearly melted away last year after the formation of a new province-wide circuit — the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League — which included two teams from the Avalon East, the Mount Pearl Blades and Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars.
That left the AESHL with just two teams, the Bell Island Blues and Northeast Eagles, but with the addition of the St. John’s Caps playing out of Twin Rinks, the league was able to survive, albeit at a lower classification.
But that changed Thursday.
“Now we can go back to ... where our league and the provincial league can be very competitive and go back to what it did before: drawing a lot of fans, giving as many players as possible a game of hockey and enhancing what senior hockey is all about,” says Brazil.
HNL senior council chair Gary Gale says the AESHL was re-classified last year because it was obvious the league’s teams weren’t able to compete at the same level as those in the provincial league, which permitted import and paid players.
“At that time, we didn’t realize we put the teams in the Avalon East in a bit of a pickle with their sponsors,” Gale says. “They did forge ahead, but they had a challenging year.”
Even with changes to how the provincial senior league will operate (see related story, page C2), any AESHL representative would probably be hard-pressed to compete come Herder time. As such, Gale says HNL will allow the Avalon East team advancing to the Herder to add a pre-determined number of strengthening players to their lineup for the final.
“That will give them a legitimate shot in terms of competing,” says Gale.
Joining St. John’s, Bell Island and Northeast in the AESHL next season is an expansion team out of Bay Roberts being operated by Brian and Kevin Hurley.