“Overwhelming” turnout at community rally

Krisi Marples/Courier They asked for a great turnout, and they got a great turnout. It was standing room only with close to 400 hockey fans attended the community rally on Sunday, Sept. 29 to show their support for a new Junior A team to be brought to the Garcelon Civic Center. Local hockey industry insider, Doug Holland, was on hand with St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern to answer questions regarding the the ins and outs of a new team coming to the civic center for the 2020/21 season. Thanks to the huge show of support by the community, Holland said he will be recommending the group move forward with the pursuit of a team.

Editor’s note – this rally happened at the end of September, and the Courier hopes to have an update on the progress of a potential team soon.

St. Stephen – “I can tell you what my votes gonna be when we get together after this,” said St. George’s own hockey guru, Doug Holland. “Let’s go.”

Holland, founding member of the Saint John SeaDogs was in St. Stephen at the Garcelon Civic Center (GCC) for a community rally on Sunday, Sept. 29 as the spokesman for a group who would like to see Junior A hockey return to the GCC.

Until the sale of the team in April of this year, the Junior A St. Stephen Aces had been a staple at the civic center for the previous five years. Almost immediately on losing the team, a group expressed interest to St. Stephen Mayor, Al MacEachern, in bringing the sport back to the town and venue.

All the group needed to see what the region was ready to support a new team – and the community showed them just that.

“It’s really important that you’re here tonight, so thank-you for that,” said the moderator for the evening, Richard Fulton.

“Waiting for tonight was like waiting for the biggest playoff game – I was so worried,” said MacEachern.

“I am overwhelmed by the support.”

And overwhelmed isn’t the wrong word. Expecting at least 100 people, hoping for more, MacEachern was amazed when the third floor of the GCC was standing room only, with almost 400 people there to show they are ready to support a new team.

So ready, in fact, 150 people put down deposits to reserve season tickets on a currently in theory only franchise. A Junior A team will have to be part of the Maritime Hockey League, but whether it will be an expansion team or the group will look to purchase an existing team is as yet unknown.

“I’m so pleased,” said MacEachern. “Junior A hockey is a huge event in our community.

“Having those players in our community every day. It’s not just game night – they’re here every day.

“They’re supporting our community, they’re supporting our fundraising, supporting the schools, business, restaurants. I see the wrappers in the garbage,” laughed MacEachern, who has billeted players since the Aces first year.

And it’s that culture surrounding the team and the game MacEachern and Holland are as keen to push as the ice time itself. Both talked about the strong bonds players can have with the community, and how having the team in the region connects Charlotte County to the rest of the country in amazing ways.

And it’s an aspect important to Holland.

“It’s not just about a hockey game, it’s about events for the community,” he said to the crowd. “It’s about a great place for young men to grow up, to go from boys to men, and it’s doable.

“We want to make better people. It’s 30 to 35 events a year – not just a hockey game,” he added.

And Holland is right. One of MacEachern’s concerns is how will local businesses cope with the loss of revenue generated by the existence of the team. From players eating take-out to host family’s grocery shopping for ravenous athletes, to the players families visiting the region to other teams filling up the tanks of their buses and eating en route, the economic impact due to the loss of the previous team could be a significant one.

In fact, Holland’s experience with the Saint John team says for every $1 spent on a ticket, approximately $6 to $7 is generated in the community around the team. So a $10 ticket could result in a $65 spend locally. It’s not a small number.

Neither is the cost of running a team, which Holland said depends on what sort of team the community wants to have in place. If you simply want to see 20-25 hockey games per year, a team can eek out an existence on somewhere in the ball park of $350,000 annually. But if you want to offer 30-35 events every year, as Holland calls them, then the price tag comes closer to the $500,000 mark.

But the big numbers don’t scare anyone at the helm. In fact, Holland is so confident he believes this shouldn’t be a team with a handful of big investor’s, but instead should be a team owned by the members of the community – a community based ownership model. It’s the model Holland proposes is the most sustainable – but the group haven’t fully mapped out what the specifics of that model will look like.

“We want to make this a community based team – a team players want to come to,” said Holland.

“We need a roadmap of where we want to be and how we’re going to get there,” he added.

And MacEachern and Holland agree on the main ingredient for success of a potential team.

“We need people to buy season tickets,” said Holland. “We need bums in the seats if we’re going to be successful.”

And thanks to the huge turnout at the community rally, Holland is confident that potential success is there.

“From the chair I sit in, it’s full ahead,” said Holland. “Let’s try and get a team.”

If you want to follow what’s happening, keep your eye on the group’s Facebook page – St Stephen Junior A Hockey, or you can sign up for email updates at www.ststephenjrahockey.org/#emailsignup

If you want to put your $25 (refundable should the team not come to fruition) deposit on season tickets, email tickets@ststephenjrahockey.org, and if you are a business interested in sponsorship opportunities, email sponsors@ststephenjrahockey.org