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Art Barry says senior hockey on the west coast won’t survive as long as parity doesn't exist between the competing teams.
He says the Stephenville Jets might be the next team gone from the fold. The league went from a four-team league to a three-team setup prior to the start of this season after the Deer Lake Red Wings folded.
Barry has had some sleepless nights trying to keep the Stephenville Jets afloat in the West Coast Senior Hockey League this year.
Barry, who is the general manager of the Jets, has struggled all year to ice a full complement of players.
The struggle has shown on the scoreboard as his team has been on the receiving end of some blowout losses. On four different occasions, the team allowed 10 goals in losses.
The Jets managed to draw some decent crowds for a couple of games when the team had a run of several close losses, but the team’s overall attendance for six home games in the regular season has averaged around 400 fans and he says that isn’t enough to keep the team viable.
Barry says the Jets have a diehard fan base of about 600 fans, but it hasn’t translated at the gate this year, and it all has to do with the Jets not being competitive with the other two teams.
“If you lose by a goal or two, they support you, but if you’re getting blown out they don’t want to come out, and that’s understandable,” Barry said.
Barry has done what he could to add players to the roster as the season went on. However, he said, there isn’t enough available talent in the Bay St. George area to draw from.
There are only so many players from outside the region who are willing to travel, leaving Barry to struggle when it comes to recruiting players.
Barry's focus with the Jets is on local players interested in getting a game of hockey and playing for the love of the game, instead of athletes who are only interested in a fistful of money, like players had been getting in other versions of senior hockey setups.
He still has four cards available to him and he’s trying to get a player signed for the team’s two road games this weekend. He was even given permission by the league, a one-time deal, to sign two players from outside the province to help the team get through this season.
He didn’t want to bring in a couple of players knowing full well it would cost him money to do so. He is against teams paying players, so he didn’t want to go down that road even though he appreciated the league giving him the green light to go for it.
He wants the league to be all about local guys playing for fun and giving the fans some quality entertainment.
He doesn’t see the league, as it stands now, as being a competitive operation, and says the league might not survive unless some changes are made.
He says a player draft is the first place to start to find the parity that fans expect to see.
“If somebody can look at me and tell me this three-team league is competitive, well, I guess one of us doesn’t know hockey,” he said. “I’m in survival mode now. I don’t want to end the season in the hole.”