By RYAN KING
PORT AUX BASQUES – The West Coast Senior Hockey League (WCSHL) will not have a season this year, which means the Stephenville Jets, the Corner Brook Royals, the Deer Lake Red Wings, and the Port aux Basques Mariners will not ice teams this year.
Jamie Young, President of the Port aux Basques Mariners, explained that he and Mark Lawrence, General Manager and Coach, had been doing everything they could to find a way to get the players on the ice.
There were many meetings with Hockey NL, the WCSHL, and talks with all of the team managers teams, and it had looked hopeful at one point.
“We were planning on having a season in January. We were going to have a shortened season with having four away games and four home games, and have playoffs,” said Young.
However, after further discussions, it was found there were too many challenges, the biggest being the pandemic restrictions that would not allow the teams to operate at full capacity at their facilities.
“The biggest challenge we had is the COVID. Obviously in the arenas right now, we’re faced with arena capacity limits. That’s a senior team and we need to have revenue coming in the door, and if we’re restricted to how many people can be in the arenas, with physical distancing, and I think there were talks of not even having food and beverages at the games, and stuff like that,” said Young. “We know fans. We know they love coming to games and enjoying their fries and drinks.”
These financial challenges were compounded by the prospects of a shorter season, and there was also consideration given to the hardships that many businesses have faced because of the pandemic.
“To approach businesses in town now, it would be tough considering the COVID impacts on all business over the last couple of years. Also with a shortened season, it’s hard to ask for sponsorship money with three or four home games scheduled. The advertising value for them is not the same as it would be in the past,” explained Young.
Another challenge to face during a shortened season was getting the number of players needed for the teams, with open skate sessions bringing out the usual number of players.
“We did have a couple open skates in Corner Brook for the league, and just to see who was out there, and who was interested. We did this in the past and the couple seasons that we did have hockey, and we weren’t too happy with the numbers that showed up to come out to these open skates. So they were lower than normal, and we were saying this doesn’t look too good from a player perspective,” stated Young.
Young disclosed that the management had contacted their former roster in Port aux Basques, and while the feedback was good, it still was not enough.
“We’re always challenged with not having enough. We can’t ice a full team here in Port aux Basques. We wish we could. So we rely on a few players from the surrounding areas – Stephenville, Corner Brook, Deer Lake. That’s the purpose of the draft, so we can draft some players here,” said Young. “It’s always a struggle, and with COVID now it makes it even more of a struggle.”
Given all of these factors, it was decided that the Mariners would instead plan to hit the ice next year in the ‘22-’23 season.
“We thought that it was maybe in our best interest to focus on next season, and hopefully things will be a little bit better and we can plan a little bit better if things are opened up a little bit more with the restrictions,” said Young.
Young acknowledged that fans in the town were looking forward to a season, but unfortunately the cancellation was unavoidable.
“We’ve been trying hard. We know there’s a large appetite here for hockey, senior hockey, in Port aux Basques. The fans – they love the Mariners. I get asked all the time ‘Is there going to be hockey this year?’ And I would reassure them, ‘Sure, yeah, we certainly hope so. We’re planning really hard and doing everything that we can to put a team on the ice and have the Mariners back in Port aux Basques this season.’ But like I said, coming from the three teams and us, it didn’t look too promising to go ahead.”
It’s not just the fans who are disappointed either. Management, players and staff feel much the same way.
“We’re very disappointed. We love hockey, and we know the fans love hockey here in town. When the Mariners are on the go here in the winter, there is nothing like it, especially when you’re winning. It’s great. The fans love it and we love it too. I couldn’t think of a better volunteer job than what I’m doing with them. To say that we couldn’t go out this year, to say it’s a big disappointment, but ultimately you’ve got to weigh the risks and rewards. So I think this year the risks were a little higher than normal due to COVID.”
Young shared appreciation and gratitude for the community, whwhich has always been supportive of the team and the league.
“I would personally like to thank the fans and the sponsors and players for their continued support. Ultimately, we wanted to ice a team this year, but through some careful planning, and evaluating the risks that comes with this, we decided it’s probably in our best interests not to go ahead with this season, and you hopefully see us on the ice of 2022. So that’s our goal,” said Young. “Go Mariners, Go!”