St. Stephen – Without a doubt, there is a twinkle – or is that the glow of a scoreboard – in St. Stephen Mayor Al MacEachern’s eye.
“We’ve got a couple of serious investors,” MacEachern smiles widely, “And interested parties in the community. We’ve had meetings, but now it’s time.”
What is MacEachern saying it’s time for? Hold onto your pucks, Charlotte County – he’s talking about the possible return of Junior A hockey to St. Stephen and the Garcelon Civic Center (GCC).
“The investors are anxious to get a team going,” said MacEachern. “They haven’t got one this year, but they’ve had teams in the past.
“They’re very serious, and they have been serious. This is the same group I’ve been talking to all along.”
And when MacEachern says “all along”, he means since the untimely demise of the region’s popular and previous Junior A hockey team, the St. Stephen Aces.
“We’ve been beating this around since we lost it (the Aces),” said MacEachern.
“What I’m really excited about is the investment group experience. They are part of the industry. That’s important.”
The Aces met an unceremonious demise – locally anyway – at the end of the 2019 season when the team was sold to an investment group in Fredericton. The team became the Fredericton Junior Red Wings, and took the team conspicuously out of Charlotte County, despite a vocal interest by MacEachern to keep the team at their GCC home.
“But we aren’t looking to bad mouth what happened,” said MacEachern of this new effort. “It happened, it won’t change. We’re not going over it.”
What MacEachern and the investment group are looking for at this juncture is simple; an indication this community wants to see a Junior A team back on local ice.
“They want to measure the interest in the community,” said MacEachern. “They want to hold a town hall meeting. And we want everyone come – the sponsors, the public – everyone. We want to prove we want our team back. It will be an open forum, and people can ask questions.
“And the numbers mean a lot.”
The meeting, which will happen at the end of September, will be held in the third floor conference room of the GCC. Although the date hasn’t been set, MacEachern knows it will be on a Sunday night later in the month in the hopes the timing will allow for as many people as possible to attend and show the county is ready for a new Junior A team.
“Hopefully everyone will come out and show their support,” said MacEachern, adding it doesn’t just have to be residents of St. Stephen.
“Be loud. We’re booking the upstairs conference room, but we’re hoping we have to say ‘you know what – let’s go fill some seats in the rink’,” he added.
“I hope we have that problem. The more support we show, the more excited the investors will be.
“I hope the sponsors see how much the hockey brought to them. I hope they miss it.”
And it’s not just with attendance the community can show its support. The idea of being able to put $25 down towards season tickets has been floated. The deposit would be a tangible show of support, and the money would be 100 per cent refundable should a team not come to fruition – an option MacEachern sees as unlikely.
“They’ll be looking at buying an existing team or starting a franchise, said MacEachern. Ideally the group will find an existing Maritime Hockey League team looking for a new home. If everyone is staying put, they will look at starting a new franchise. In fact, MacEachern said there is another town in New Brunswick interested in having a team, and with two potentially looking for a franchise, the odds of starting them become theoretically greater.
Either way MacEachern knows the group – who are all seasoned hockey owners and have spent years within the industry – have more than one idea up their sleeves to see a new Junior A team on the GCC ice for the 2020/2021 season.
“That’s pretty much it,” laughed MacEachern. “A lot of meetings to get to “it” but, yeah, they want to move.”
Although the time and date of the meeting have not been set, the Courier will let the public know once it has been. Watch this space.