There’s no discounting the Conception Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars’ dominance of the Avalon East Senior Hockey League. After all, the CeeBees have won the league title seven consecutive years.
But after losing a third straight Herder Memorial Trophy championship series on the weekend — falling to the West Coast Senior Hockey League champion Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts in four straight games — the CeeBees and the AESHL’s ability to compete against the West Coast circuit will undoubtedly be called into question.
“I’d say there’s players, management and fans who are saying ‘This is three times in a row we’ve got to the Herder final and we didn’t win,’” says CeeBees veteran forward Chris Bartlett.
“I’m not gonna say the east can’t compete with the west, because I think we can. I just don’t think we were up for the challenge Grand Falls-Windsor gave us.”
After losing by a single goal in each of the first two games of the provincial senior final, played at Mile One Centre, Bartlett said the CeeBees went to central Newfoundland with every intention of “stealing a couple of games to bring (the series) back to Mile One.”
But those intentions immediately took a knocking,. By the end of the first period of Friday’s Game 3 at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, the CeeBees were down 3-0.
“They got a couple of bounces early in the game and we couldn’t rally from those deficits,” Bartlett recounts. “When frustration sets in, as hard as you work, things just don’t go your way.”
The CeeBees dropped that game 8-2 and were blanked 4-0 in Saturday’s Game 4.
“I don’t think man for man we were much weaker, but every person on their team played to the best of their ability and we didn’t have that,” says Bartlett, who returned to the CeeBees this season after a two-year hiatus during which the club lost back-to-back Herders to the Clarenville Caribous.
“I’m not gonna say the east can’t compete with the west, because I think we can. I just don’t think we were up for the challenge Grand Falls-Windsor gave us.” - Chris Bartlett
Bartlett says the Cats play a completely different style of hockey than what the Deer Lake Red Wings brought to the ice in four straight Herder tilts against the CeeBees from 2004-2005 to 2007-2008.
“It was more a physical style of hockey (against Deer Lake),” he says. Grand Falls-Windsor didn’t play that way. They played a quick puck moving, fast-paced style.”
There’s no telling what changes will be coming in CeeBee country during the off-season, but a rematch with the Cataracts could happen sooner than next spring as rumours of interlocking play between the two leagues persist.
Bartlett feels teams on this side of the island can compete, but says changes to how the Avalon East operates would enable them to be even more competitive.
“It does have to adopt changes that will match what the west can do, maybe without the draft or allowing teams to be a little more free in what they do.
In the west, Bartlett says the four teams’ ability to put together the best possible rosters makes for a more competitive league.
“They’re getting a quality game of hockey every game, whereas we weren’t and that’s a big advantage. The AESHL has to look at how they can make our league more competitive game in, game out.”
Bartlett is not suggesting an unregulated return to the old provincial senior circuit of the 1980s and early 90s.
“I don’t know if that’s the route to go because when that much money got involved, look what happened.”