Four out the door of provincial senior hockey league

Cats, Royals, Flyers and Caribous leaving NLSHL, forming own circuit

Published on June 3, 2014
NLSHL logo

“East is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet,” began a poem written by Rudyard Kipling 125 years ago.
Well, east and west did meet for the last three years in the six-team Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NLSHL), which had entries from the Humber Valley to Mount Pearl. But it looks like as if that arrangement is ending, and that Kipling’s assertion is being reinforced, with word that the league’s four western-most clubs — the Clarenville Caribous, Gander Flyers, Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and Western Royals — will leave the NLSHL, presumably to re-establish the old West Coast senior league, or some sort of equivalent.

That leaves the Harbour Grace-based Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars and Mount Pearl Blades, the NLSHL’s most eastern-most clubs, out in the cold, and according to Blades’ vice-president Jim Hare, “befuddled” by the news.

When contacted Monday evening, Caribous general manger Derek McPhee said “we’ve been advised to hang off comments” about the split, but did add the plans of the four breakaway teams should be revealed later this week.

“We have an agenda and I think that should be made clearer by Wednesday,” said McPhee, without divulging exactly what will take place on that day.

“There’s a big a picture and a little picture and if we comment too much now, we’ll be giving out little pictures, snippets that won’t indicate much, but by Wednesday, everyone should have a big, clear picture of what is happening.”

Ross Coates, general manager of the Royals, went public Monday, saying that one of the reasons for the move was to increase league-wide attendance by tightening the geography, reducing travel costs and reinforcing rivalries among teams in the western and central areas of the province.

McPhee wouldn’t comment on what Coates said, reiterating that he would wait until later in the week, but did say the move “has the complete support” of the four teams involved.

“We went through a three-year trial period,” he said, referring to the NLSHL, established in 2011. “Now, we will try something else.”

As for the Blades and CeeBees, McPhee insists “this is not meant to upset anyone involved.

“At the end of the day, I actually believe this will be for the benefit of everyone, not just for four teams, but for Mount Pearl and the CeeBees, too, and maybe for the Avalon East.”

The latter is in reference to the province’s other senior hockey league, one that has operated on a much smaller scale than the NLSHL, which has featured substantial operating budgets and uses many import players.

Three years ago, the Blades and CeeBees left the AESHL — and not in the friendliest of partings — to become part of the NLSHL.

When asked if a return to the Avalon East was possible, the Blades’ Hare said his club was still trying to absorb what was happening with the breakup of the NSHL.

“We’re sort of befuddled,” said Hare. “How could they disband the league without consulting two of the teams that were part of the league?

“And there was no consultation, by the league or any of the other teams. This has caught us off-guard. We had no idea this was happening. No idea.

“We were definitely back-doored on this.”

CeeBees president Nick Saunders had the same reaction.

“We were shocked,” Saunders told Nick Mercer of The Compass/TCMedia. “We had no idea this was taking place.”

Saunders said the news was particularly surprising given that the Allan Cup national senior championship tournament is scheduled for Clarenville in 2015.

“If this had’ve been next year and we were having this conversation, I think it would have been a little bit less of a surprise,” he said.

Both Hare and Saunders said their teams are proceeding with plans to operate for the 2014-15 season. The Blades, for example, have a big fundraising concert featuring musical groups Shanneyganock, The Masterless Men and Rum Ragged on Saturday night at the Mount Pearl Glacier. And Saunders says the CeeBees “were full steam ahead and still are” in plans for the fall.

“We still do have every intention to ice a CeeBees team next season,” he said.

But just where they and the Blades will operate is the big question.

A return to the Avalon East could be an option, said Saunders, but he added that it was far from a certainty.

“Is there an appetite or would they even accept us if we applied?” he asked.

AESHL vice-president Joe Maynard said his league prefers to wait to see what shakes out as a result of the expected NSHL break-up, but did say any team looking to join the Avalon East would have to abide by the league’s community-based roster rules.

“For example, if Mount Pearl came back, they couldn’t do so with the team they have now,” said Maynard. “They would have to use only players from Mount Pearl and whoever they picked up in the draft.”

However, Maynard did say that he, for one, would be intrigued by the possibility that’s what happening might lead to a return of the Avalon East to competition for the Herder Memorial Trophy and the provincial senior hockey championship.

The AESHL — with had teams in Bell Island, Southern Shore, St. John’s and Northeast (Torbay) last season — hasn’t played for the Herder since 2011, the season before the NSHL was formed.

Coates mentioned the possibility of re-establishing an east-west competition for the Herder on Monday.

“Oh, definitely. Of course, we’d be interested,” said Maynard when asked AESHL coming back into the Herder conversation. But he did add the big concern would be about competitiveness, given the differing philosophies— particularly regarding imports — of the teams in his league and the four club involved in the potential new league.