St. Stephen Aces hockey club appeals to fan ‘owners’ for financial help – Options include relocation, and sitting out a year

Kathy Bockus/Courier St. Stephen businessman David Ganong addresses a breakfast meeting of the St. Stephen and Area Chamber of Commerce, encouraging people to find ways to help financially support the St. Stephen Aces, a junior A hockey club.

St. Stephen – The future of the St. Stephen Aces junior A hockey team is uncertain.
“Right now we are in a very, very serious position, and the fate of the team is precarious,” said Peter Spik, the hockey club’s chief financial officer.

He and other members of the club’s organizational team delivered the dire news Thursday morning, in a breakfast meeting they hosted for members of the St. Stephen Area Chamber of Commerce.

Bob Sweeney, the club’s vice-president of business, revealed the Aces hockey club is running a $50,000 deficit this year in its $500,000 operating budget, adding the club has experienced a deficit in each of its four years.

“This can’t continue,” said Spik. “If there is no way we can bridge that loss, the team is not sustainable over the long run.

“Plain and simple, it just won’t be here,” he warned. “This may be the last operating year, if we don’t bridge that gap.

“The gap is there, and we’re looking for the owners of this team, which are basically the people of Charlotte County, to step forward and bridge that gap,” stated Spik.

“In the long run, what the team and the advisors are doing is working hard, and putting together sustainable plans to raise funds for the team on an ongoing basis, because we don’t want this (a deficit) to happen again,” Spik said.

When asked if the club had reached a point when it would consider moving the Aces team if another community came forward with an offer, Sweeney said it was an option.

“You never say ‘no’ to anything like that,” Sweeney answered. “What I can say is no community has come forward.”

He stressed: “Our objective is to keep the Aces here in St. Stephen. We don’t want them to go away.”

But Sweeney said it was important for the community – residents and businesses alike – to be aware of that relocation possibility, noting it was not uncommon for teams to do so.

Sweeney said in light of the financial strain the club is under, one of the options it could pursue is sitting out a year to reorganize and restructure, a move allowed under framework of the Maritime Hockey League’s constitution.

Sweeney said the Aces is not the only MHL club experiencing financial difficulty; there are at least four in the same position.

Spik said the club has looked at the costs incurred by other junior A teams throughout the league, and the entire country, and have found the Aces operational budget “really no different” from any others.

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern told the meeting he was concerned over the possibility of not having the hockey team and club in the community.

“When they talk about this team not being here next year, I want everyone to visualize that. That scares me to death.”

MacEachern said the community is growing, and the Aces have played a role in that growth.

“To take that rug out from underneath our feet and go back… what would we do there?” he asked, referring to the Quartermain Arena at the Garcelon Civic Center. “What would we put in that rink 26 or 28 times a year bringing in possibly a thousand people?

“That’s serious. Please help.”

He noted that the town would end up having to financially support anything that replaced the Aces club’s use of the arena.

Average attendance at last year’s games was 888. The Aces made the playoffs. This year the average attendance at the games is 744 in 13 homes games so far this season. The Aces are in last place in the league, although at the breakfast meeting Sweeney said he’s remaining optimistic the Aces will make a run for the playoffs.

Those present were asked to network, and let people know about the position in which the Aces club finds itself.

Chamber president Rick Coates said it was unfortunate more chamber members weren’t able to attend the breakfast information meeting, but added their absence was “somewhat understandable” given the busy time of year for retail businesses.

In an email Coates stated the role of the chamber was to support all businesses, not-for-profit or otherwise, in the St. Stephen Area. The Aces is a not for profit club, with only two paid employees, the coach and assistant coach.

“The Aces are a business of significant size for our area which, coupled with the nature of the business, has an important social and economic impact in St. Stephen,” stated Coates.

“It would be a substantial loss for the town if they were not able to continue. We have a discussion of the Aces situation and the Chamber’s response on the agenda for our next executive and director’s meeting in January.”

Club president John Hyslop thanked those attending.

“When we first started this six years ago, the main idea here – we’re all hockey nuts and we wanted to stay involved in the game ourselves – but it was to do something we thought would be good for the town, and that the town would enjoy,” he said.

“And that’s still our main purpose in being here. We don’t want to sell the team or fold the team. We want to keep this going. We do think it’s good for St. Stephen, and I love it.

“All of us who are involved in it love it. We’ve got a passion and we hope all of you develop that same passion as well, (and) support us.”

Sweeney encouraged those who enjoy the Aces to engage in discussions with any member of the club for more information on how they could help.

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Journalist Kathy Bockus is based in St. Stephen and has worked for The Saint Croix Courier as a general news reporter and feature writer for the past 15 years. She began her lengthy newspaper career in 1974 with a daily in Saint John. Bockus says she always jokes being a reporter is a licence to be nosey, but firmly believes that everyone has a story to tell. She can be contacted at 321-0759.