Monday, November 24, 2014

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goal achieved: region scores junior A hockey team - Mar. 05, 2014

Vern Faulkner
St. Stephen
The St. Croix Valley is now the proud home of a brand-new junior A hockey team – at least, in theory.
On Saturday, in a meeting in Sackville, N.B., the board of governors of the Maritime Hockey League granted approval for the formation of an expansion franchise.
It’s welcome news to John Hyslop, the president of the Charlotte County Junior A Hockey Club.
“We’re good to go. We’re done. We’re in it,” said Hyslop Monday.
There will be precious little time to celebrate, for now comes the hard work: tackling a laundry list of things that must be done in order to open the season in the autumn of this year.
“We would expect training camp will open in late August. We haven’t set a firm date.”
But between then and now, the team must hire a coach and general manager, organize a schedule by the league’s July deadline, recruit players in the 17-20 age range, find billets, expand its sponsor list, finalize a name, select a logo and a dozen other tasks required to bring the franchise into existence.
Much of the groundwork has already been done, said Hyslop.
“We’ve been working on this for more than a year. We’ve talked to a number of partners,” he stated.
“We’ve been talking to people over both counties (Charlotte and Washington), and Saint John, to make sure it’s feasible.”
One of the first “to-do” items is to state – as many times as necessary – that this is a regional franchise, one that will be built with the idea of drawing fans and supporters from both sides of the border.
“Although it’s operating out of St. Stephen, it’s a Charlotte and Washington County team.”
Given the league allows retention of up to seven American-born players, Hyslop foresees U.S.-based players residing in Calais.
“No. 1: this is going to provide high-level hockey entertainment to the community. Financially, there’s spinoffs to restaurants and the local retailers, hotels.
“A number of the players won’t be from the immediate area. We will be billeting them, and that puts money into the local economy, as well,” Hyslop stated. The estimated annual budget for the squad is $500,000 a year, and much of that money, gained either through ticket sales or sponsorships, will be returned to the community through billets, meals, and visiting team hotel expenses.
Players will be involved in the community, providing such things as community leadership through such things as visits to hospitals, schools, and seniors’ complexes, he asserted.
The infusion of some 20 elite athletes into the region will have tremendous impacts on many levels. High school-aged youth will, he said, most likely attend Calais High School or St. Stephen High School, and those of an older age may attend the two area colleges, or take online classes.
Too, the team will, Hyslop vowed, be omnipresent throughout the region.
“We need Calais involved. And we need the islands, Campobello, Grand Manan – they are part of the community, too.”
Players will visit elementary and middle schools, representatives will conduct clinics in area rinks, and, if allowed, will conduct exhibition and pre-season games in other area arenas, passing on their leadership skills and inspiring generations of youth to work towards achieving their dreams and aspirations.
As for the team name and logo, Hyslop suggested the team’s braintrust may well allow the community to name the squad – though a decision on that has yet to be made.
Hyslop fully understands that some prospective hockey fans may be a little unclear on the difference between a junior A team and a major junior team, such as the Saint John Sea Dogs.
One critical difference is that the U.S. collegiate sports group, the NCAA, considers major junior to be a professional league, and its athletes are restricted, if not ineligible, for NCAA scholarships. Junior A teams are considered amateur, making leagues such as the MHL an ideal venue for scholastic-inclined youth who wish to parlay hockey talent into a free or much-reduced education through NCAA scholarships.
The Maritime Hockey League is a member of a nation-wide Canadian Junior Hockey League, which features 128 teams from coast to coast. The annual national championship, the Royal Bank Cup, has emerged as one of the pinnacle sports competitions in the nation.
More than a few NHL players have played junior A hockey at some point: meaning that some September, hockey fans may have a chance to catch a glimpse of hockey’s future.
On that note, while not revealing any future intent, Hyslop said the team’s organizers believe a few local athletes may well have the capacity to make the team in the immediate term, while also offering a future place to perhaps, play.
“It’s going to give the younger hockey players something to aspire to.”