Port aux Basques Minor Hockey Association president Krystal Blackler wants to set the record straight about the controversy that resulted after a group of young bowlers and minor hockey players were stranded by a powerful winter storm over the Feb. 9 weekend.
In particular, she took exception to St. Christopher’s Hotel manager Denise Lomond’s statement that the hockey tournament should have been cancelled before the weather hit.
“Knowing this storm was coming and that it might be a three or four-day event, why weren’t these tournaments cancelled and put off until another date?” Lomond said in an interview with The Western Star.
Blackler says the fact that it was minor hockey players in town for a tournament who were stranded is entirely irrelevant.
“That could have been boat traffic down there. It doesn’t matter who was at the hotel,” points out Blackler. “Just because it was hockey teams? They’re your guests.”
She dismisses the suggestion that the tournament should have been cancelled and says the teams were quite prepared to stay an extra day if the weather prevented travel.
“The warnings were a snow squall watch and a wind warning. How often do we see that in Port aux Basques?” she asked. “If we had to cancel this tournament based on a wind warning and a snow squall watch – you’d never get it in. You’d never get any hockey. No one would ever come here.”
She says the forecast didn’t predict the actual severity of the storm that knocked power out to most of the southwest coast for well over a day and didn’t fully clear until Monday afternoon, Feb. 11.
Blackler pointed out that students go to school in the midst of constant wind and snow squall warnings, and that transport drivers still make it through the Wreckhouse area.
“It’s Newfoundland,” she said. “You can’t wait until spring to play hockey.”
The Sam Rose tournament opened wonderfully on Saturday, Feb. 9, according to Blacker. Teams even showed up Sunday morning, Feb. 10, to the Bruce II Sports Centre. It was only when the power failed that the tournament had to be postponed and the players returned to the hotel to wait it out.
“They had a hard go of it,” says Blackler. “It was the power outage that killed everything.”
Blackler acknowledges the situation was unusually extreme.
“We’ve had power outages in the past, so I don’t know how prepared the hotel was. In reality, I think they should have been offered extra blankets,” says Blackler.
This experience has some parents worried about hotel safety procedures, and Blackler does admit that she would have liked to have seen matters handled a bit better. She believes that even just checking on the guests would have likely gone a long way.
“I think that the way these guests were treated. And I think that statement was even made (in a review on Trip Advisor), that if you don’t like the way things are going then you can pack up and leave,” she said. “That was an actual statement made by one of the employees. To me that’s not good customer service.”
Blackler notes that because of the storm and the power outage, the teams couldn’t leave.
“They had no food. When we got in touch with the teams, one of the coaches said, ‘We would appreciate a sleeve of crackers right now.’”
Blackler says parents have been quite consistent in their recounting of the experience to her directly.
“All the parents seem to be on the same page — the Corner Brook parents and the Deer Lake parents. Their stories are all connecting, and this is two separate teams,” says Blackler. “Everyone’s got the same story.”
The minor hockey association did what it could to help out. On Monday, Feb. 11, the association bought party pizzas, juice, soda, water, cookies and fruit to the hotel for the teams, parents and coaching staff.
Blackler says she does intend to reach out to the hotel once matters settle a bit more, and that she’s not trying to cast a negative light on the hotel or its staff, she just wants to clarify why the tournament wasn’t cancelled as Lomond suggested.
“We live in Port aux Basques and you can’t cancel on a wind warning,” insists Blackler. “If there was a power outage (warning), then maybe yeah, you know I think that we’ll postpone our tournament. But to cancel our tournament on a wind warning and a snow squall watch, it wouldn’t even make sense.”
Blackler is hoping this whole experience can soon be put to rest so that the teams can just get back to what they love and do best – play hockey.
Port aux Basques will be hosting a female provincial tournament in March and the Atoms provincial tournament in April.
“You need two hotels. You’ve got five teams coming, so both hotels right now are currently booked up,” says Blackler.
Plans are in the works to reschedule the remaining four games of the Sam Rose tournament later in the season.