Northeast Town will review Junior A tenancy proposal

LITTLE CURRENT—The topic of hosting another Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) Junior A team in Little Current was brought before the Northeast Town council last week during a committee meeting, eliciting mixed reviews.

“We have been approached by Tim Clayden about bringing an NOJHL team back to Little Current,” explained CAO Dave Williamson.

He said that the core requirement in bringing a team to Little Current, according to Mr. Clayden, is community support and that Mr. Clayden (the director of operations for the Espanola Rivermen) submitted a draft contract for staff’s perusal.

“What we’re basically asking, is council interested and can we support it?” Mr. Williamson asked.

“They’re looking in the range of $20,000 for support,” the CAO continued.

“I’m not interested in pouring money into attracting a team,” stated Councillor Michael Erskine.

“I’d certainly support a team if we didn’t have to fund it,” added Councillor Bill Koehler. (Councillor Koehler was a major force behind the former Manitoulin Islanders Junior A hockey team.)

Mr. Williamson explained that the team was supported in the past by the municipality through signboard revenue, which the town now collects, a small office space made available in the recreation centre for a nominal fee, the use of two dressing rooms and having the ice cleared at a set time before each home game (thereby losing out on any other ice rentals).

Mayor Al MacNevin noted that the issue of ice time would be an issue among the arena’s other groups.

This wouldn’t just be a financial matter, but a political one too, the mayor said.

The $20,000 is less the signboard revenue plus a reduced ice rate, the CAO explained.

[box type=”note” align=”aligncenter” width=”550″ ]Also read: • Junior A Trappers eye up Manitoulin for new home rinkEspanola Rivermen to bring NOJHL back to Manitoulin Island[/box]

Councillor Skippen said he was “not interested” as hosting a Junior A team would put Island user groups at a loss, “who are the kids that are playing here, and our taxpayers.”

Councillor Bruce Wood said he was “hounded” following last week’s Expositor article that named Little Current as a possible new home for the North Bay Trappers.

“I hate to hear all that negativity,” Councillor Koehler said. He suggested submitting the current ice times to the team and asking if they can work around it, “to be fair.”

Councillor Jones reminded council that the budget had already been passed only two days prior to the meeting, saying, “we’ve been trying to be very careful with the donation budget.”

“Without (needing) our support, we would just sign them up,” the mayor said.

“I’m not a big fan of hockey, but I know it was important to a lot of people in the community,” Councillor Melissa Peters allowed. “I would be willing to hear them out,” she added, noting that she had voted down the budget because it had been pared down too much for her taste.

“I agree with Melissa,” Councillor Koehler said. “I wouldn’t vote for it if it (financial support for the team) came from the taxpayers.”

“So we’re in agreement that no one wants to subsidize the team,” the mayor said.

The Expositor spoke with Mr. Clayden following the meeting who explained that he has been working with David Beauchamps, North Bay Trappers president, to see the team relocated. It was announced earlier this month that the Trappers’ existing facility agreement with the City of North Bay would not be honoured next season due to budget cuts in the municipality, leaving the Trappers to look for a new home. The communities of Mattawa, Little Current and New Liskeard were all listed as possible new hosts.

Mr. Clayden is also the former owner of the Trappers with an interest in an “incomplete purchase agreement” with the current owner, he added. However, he said, he is also a lover of Junior A hockey and believes that a team, especially on Manitoulin Island, would be a natural fit. Mr. Clayden has been involved with Junior A hockey throughout Canada, and even Australia, for the past 30 years and recalls the days of the Manitoulin Wild and Manitoulin Islanders and the filled arenas while he worked as one of the three founding directors of the North Bay Skyhawks. Mr. Clayden also noted the sold out game held between the Rivermen and the North Bay Trappers in Little Current in December.

He explained that fans asked him to facilitate the meeting between Mr. Beauchamps and the Northeast Town, which he was pleased to do.

The facility contract between the team and the municipality is key, Mr. Clayden explained, and he helped Mr. Beauchamps to write the draft for the Northeast Town’s considerations.

“I think it was a lot for them to chew on,” he admitted.

“For us in Espanola, it was a true partnership where mayor and council got behind the team in order to be successful, but the onus is on the team to go to work,” he said.

Mr. Clayden said that in every community, the question is always ‘how long will they be around?’ “The goal is obviously long-term as the time, money and effort into having a Junior A team is huge,” he said.

He said he spoke with Mr. Williamson Friday morning, following the committee meeting of council, and understood there wasn’t overwhelming support from all members.

[box type=”shadow” align=”alignright” ][polldaddy poll=7836147][/box]Mattawa is the first choice of Mr. Beauchamps, as the move wouldn’t be a major one from North Bay. However, he said, the arena is not conducive to junior hockey play.

“Selfishly, I would love to see the Trappers in Little Current,” Mr. Clayden said, adding that the rivalry between Manitoulin and Espanola would be a healthy one.

While the municipality may have to give $20,000 in in-kind donations to the team, the economic spin-off would be great, giving the figure of $500,000 each year ($110,000 of that goes to player billets), and this in the shoulder season.

“Everyone can say what they want, but the onus is always on the hockey club to run properly,” Mr. Clayden continued. ‘They would need to become citizens of Manitoulin Island.”

“I think Little Current is close and convenient,” he furthered. “Having a team in Little Current: is it going to help us or hurt us? In a perfect world I could see people having two sets of season tickets.”

It all comes down to one thing—money, Mr. Clayden said. The cost to run the Rivermen franchise is $300,000 each year, he explained, noting that the majority of Junior A teams are ‘pay to play.’ “It’s a full-time job to be in hockey and operate in the black each year, and it all starts with the facility agreement.”

To host a team means finding a dedicated group that can maintain its energy and enthusiasm for years to come, Mr. Clayden shared, “and that’s where teams get in trouble.” Enticing Island players to come home and play and developing a rapport with Island minor hockey clubs is also key to having a successful club, he said.

Mr. Clayden said the Northeast Town has agreed to take a “good hard look” at the agreement to see where’s the room to give, if any, before sending it back to the Trappers where they will do the same. The next step would be a face-to-face meeting.

Alicia McCutcheon