SOLD Aces franchise sold, will move to Fredericton – 2019/20 season welcomes the Fredericton Junior Red Wings

Submitted photo Six-year-old Kenton Mason with his idol, Aces no. 15, Liam Smith. Smith signed his stick and gifted it to Kenton at the end of the season.

St. Stephen – The St. Stephen Aces have been sold, and will enter the 2019/2020 season as the Fredericton Junior Red Wings (FJRW).

The announcement was finally made Monday in Fredericton at the team’s new home, the Grant Harvey Arena.

“Over the course of the past two seasons in particular, we found ourselves in the unfortunate position where our executive had to make a very difficult decision and that was we needed to sell the franchise in order to meet the financial obligations owed to all of our creditors. The decision to sell the franchise was extremely difficult and heart-wrenching for the club’s directors and executive,” said team Governor, Mike Horne in a press release. The Courier has arranged to meet with the Aces ownership group for an interview regarding the sale of the team. Watch for the article in a future edition.

“It was an agreement between the current owner, Mike Horne – Mike brought it to the league way back when, before I came back on – and then basically, we took it to the board of governors,” said MHL Interim President, Dave Ritcey after the press conference.

“There was an agreement in principle between the ownership group here in Fredericton as well as Mike Horne and we put it vote. We asked Roger to come in – that was Mike’s wishes – and he presented to the governors and it was unanimous from the governor’s perspective to have the team move here to Fredericton.

“It was really exciting from a governor perspective. It was an 11 to 0 vote,” Ritcey added.

“It isn’t the kind of shock like it’s a slap in the face you didn’t know was coming – and I don’t think anyone in St. Stephen that’s been following this story can truly say ‘wow, I had no idea’,” said Aces coach, Emery Olauson on Monday evening.

“Because everyone’s had an idea – I can remember a game, I believe in November, where a linesman was talking about this happening.”

Throughout the months of rumour and chatter, Olauson has had little more information than the average person on the street. The truth is, aside from some casual conversations, Olauson wasn’t privy to the details of the sale.

And his experience was to hear of the sale one day, and then be told it wasn’t happening the next.

“So, you know, to say I found out today wouldn’t be true, but to say it is a shock its happening is.”

“It’s disheartening,” said former Associate Coach, Bill Rotheisler Monday evening.

“I knew my contract was for one year, and it’s up, and I was privy to the rumours, but no one from the current or previous ownership provided me any confirmation they were true.

“As far as I know, they players weren’t given a heads up either.

“I’m not a bitter man, but it would have been nice to have heard directly from the Aces owners, not through the grapevine. It could have been handled more professionally.

“It would have been nice to have a heads up to the internal parties affected. In this business, the more time leeway you have to secure your next gig, the better.”

Rotheisler is clearly frustrated, and seemingly with reason. As of Monday evening, hours after the press conference in Fredericton which announced the sale and relocation of the team, neither Olauson nor Rotheisler had heard from the St. Stephen Aces ownership beyond a basic email stating the team had been sold.

“The players are what matters,” said Rotheisler. “They are already working out for next season. It would have been nice to hear from somebody.

“I would have hoped they would have contacted them before the sale.

“I’ll land on my feet. My loyalty was to those boys. I waited because we’ve invested a lot of time into these guys. So out of loyalty I waited to see, but they haven’t contacted me.

“I’ve been fired before, I’ve not had my contract renewed. But this is the first time I’ve been left in limbo.

“If you aren’t going to renew someone, you should tell them.”

“The reality of it not being here in St. Stephen is sad for this town,” said Olauson.

“There wouldn’t be anything I could have done differently that would give them a team to cheer for next year.

“We did our best to give them things to cheer for over the course of the year, and they did their best in return. When the team wasn’t performing well, man, the people were still there cheering them on and it made coming to the rink really, really fun.

“As far as any negotiations – I would have no power to keep the team here, or if it was my wish to move it on, that wouldn’t be my job,” Olauson added.

“Now we just have to decide if it’s the best fit for me and for my family. Fredericton is different from St. Stephen. It’s hard to absorb all this, to be honest with ya.

“There’s a lot of things we’re gonna have to figure out.”

“We hope that Emery will be our coach, we just have to finalize what we hope is just some contract details with him, so the intention of ours is to have Emery as our coach and general manager,” said FJRW President and Team Governor, Roger Shannon.

“I like the team, I like what Emery’s done, I like their speed – I like everything about them,” he added.

And does Shannon plan to maintain the current roster?

“Yes… I love their work ethic, and they fought and they made the playoffs and there’s no reason to think those kids aren’t going to get every opportunity to play here. And why wouldn’t we.”

But the big question – the doozey, if you will – is not why did the current ownership sell the team, decisions have to made in business all the time, and the Aces are indeed a business, but why was every effort not made to keep the team in St. Stephen prior to being sold to an external party which is seeing the team move?

“We’re truly going to miss them,” said Ritcey of working with the ownership group in St. Stephen.

“I mean Mike – I’ve been here since 2008 – the Horne family I dealt directly with consistently over those years. They were fantastic people. Really, when it came down to it, it comes down to a financial situation, and Mike truly had to make the decision based on that.

“Attendance is one thing, and making the playoffs – but there’s other things that come into factor when it comes to a franchise and we hate to see a team fold and have no back up, which we pretty much did in the situation with Woodstock.

“These guys all worked diligently, including St. Stephen, which were fantastic – fantastic community to be in, a fantastic group to work with, but again it comes down to finances sometimes, and truthfully, that’s the reason why this came to fruition,” Ritcey added.

“While the Aces had excellent fan support from the very beginning, averaging 800 fans a game, ticket sales only represent up to 25 per cent of the revenues needed to successfully operate a Junior A Hockey Club. As a not for profit organization the remaining 75 per cent comes from sponsorship, fund-raising, and advertising. Realizing the Aces needed some assistance, in the Fall of 2017 the Executive sought expert advice from a group of local business leaders in efforts to resolve the deficit and to develop a long-term sustainability plan,” states the Aces press release.

So, if the financial viability of the team was the reason for the sale, why does Shannon feel the team will succeed once moved?

“I look at as a different – a whole new business – and yes, we’re very fortunate to have St. Stephen only because we pick up such good players, and they made the playoffs this year, and they were young,” said Shannon.

“So obviously it’s not like starting the Las Vegas Golden Knights – I mean, we’re starting with some players, which helps.

“But from a financial perspective, it’s two separate markets, one has really nothing to do with the other. Fredericton’s one market, St. Stephen is another, you know – hockey – and I’ve been involved in it a long time – hockey is a daily grind.

“Every market’s different, but it doesn’t matter where you are, you can’t sit on your thumbs, you just gotta work every single day, and that’s, as you can see from our marketing group and so on and so forth that we have on board – you know what – fans are very, very important obviously to the success of a hockey team, but it really comes down to the business community.”

But just seeing it all as a business transaction isn’t the perspective of Olauson or Rotheisler.

“I mean – take me back a year – going through the negotiations to move out here for one year, would probably not have been as desirable, now looking back in hindsight,” said Olauson.

But does he regret it? No.

“With the help of Bill and some really hard working players we defied the odds,” said Olauson.

“Something will replace this. Good towns get behind the things that they have. Unfortunately for St. Stephen, it’s not the Aces.

“St. Stephen’s got good fans, and they’ll show up for whatever’s happening.

“A huge thank-you from our family to the people that are heartbroken today, that really tried their best to keep this team and supported us. It was a long move less than a year ago, but there wasn’t any days when we didn’t feel at home,” he added, the emotion clear on his face.

“Hopefully wherever it is we move to is as welcoming and inviting as St. Stephen was.”

“I’ve loved it,” said Rotheisler. “I met so many great people. Life is about experiences. I’m very fortunate things worked out the way they did.

“It was an awesome experience and I wouldn’t trade it.”

“I just crashed,” said an exhausted St. Stephen Mayor, Al MacEachern in a phone call late Monday night after hearing of the announcement.

“I knew it was coming, but it’s just a shame. They could have come to council.

“But they didn’t give us the opportunity for the team to stay. And then they knew the options, just didn’t do anything about them.

“I just don’t have anything left to say. I’m really disappointed.”

editor@stcroixcourier.ca