Junior Ontario Hockey

Welcome to the West/Midwest Ontario Hockey Forums
It is currently Mon Jul 28, 2014 2:21 pm

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 4 posts ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 1:55 pm 
Offline
User avatar

Joined: Sun Jun 27, 2004 10:34 pm
Posts: 2658
Location: London
Our arena, our hockey, our town
Fri, March 14, 2008 London Free Press
By RYAN PYETTE, FREE PRESS SPORTS REPORTER

March Madness isn't just reserved for college basketball. It's hockey playoff time in Southwestern Ontario and local arenas are buzzing.

In Aylmer, the captain of the junior C Spitfires doesn't have to glance at the crowd or peek through the glass into the Blue Line room at the East Elgin Community Complex.

Nathan Gavey knows who's there. His parents, family, friends -- the same crew that's watched him play since he was seven years old. He can feel their eyes on his back. This is his fifth and final year with the hometown team. He has a job at a boat repair shop in Belmont, but he's not ready to leave the ice just yet.

Yes, it's playoff hockey time.

In St. Marys, Lincolns veteran defenceman Brett Petrie can't help but look into the stands and notice the difference. All season there were three, four hundred in the old rink that's become part of the new and controversial Pyramid Recreation Centre.

Now there's twice that for a Western Ontario Hockey League (junior B) semifinal series with London. It's louder. It's prouder. Heck, Stonetown Mayor Jamie Hahn is working the public address system; he has for years.

No one has to remind Petrie what's going down. Clearly, this is playoff hockey time.

In Thamesford, the current Trojans only have to gaze above the door of their dressing room to see what's at stake. All those OHA championship banners. A junior D dynasty. This is a team that's carved out the same elite tradition at the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League level that the Stratford Cullitons have in junior B.

It's another title or bust every year for the Trojans. Another stellar regular season, another seven-game series against the rival Lucan Irish is behind them. The pressure is ramped up one more notch.

No doubt, this is playoff hockey time.

While the Toronto Maple Leafs make their nauseating run to purgatory and the London Knights gear up for another OHL playoff run, other dramas play out concurrently on a Tuesday in Thamesford, a Wednesday in Aylmer or a Friday in a St. Marys.

"Don Cherry has said it and I have always agreed with him," Ontario Hockey Association president Brent Ladds said. "The big, urban centres often feel like they invented hockey, but it's the smaller towns that are really at the root of the game. It's the true birthplace . . . and it's the reason why you go to Mitchell and they're so proud to be the birthplace of Howie Morenz. That's where he learned to play hockey and the game has been going on there for a very long time."

Bryan Smith is from Lucan and is retired after working 32 years in sales for Dare Foods. There was never a shortage of product to sample. But you know what? After a while, there really is such a thing as too many cookies.

Playoff hockey, though, never gets stale. That's why he was up in St. Marys to watch the Lincolns and the Nationals in the opening game of their semifinal. There was a snowstorm raging outside and a treacherous drive home in store, but plenty of warmth inside the arena.

"It's the people," Smith said. "Simple as that. The hockey is good. It's a fast-paced game. But it's the people that keep you coming back year after year. I love it."

St. Marys has everything working against it in terms of a WOHL franchise. The population base is small and it competes against Stratford and Listowel -- heavyweights in the Mid-Western league -- for players. There have been some lean years, of course, but the Lincolns have a rich history of winning and have always found a way to make things run.

"What the Lincolns have done so well is provide the people of St. Marys with some fine entertainment for three hours a couple of days a week," said Mayor Hahn.

He couldn't be at the game in London on Tuesday because there was a town council meeting. There are important issues, including the soon-to-be-completed new aquatic centre at Pyramid that features a salt-water pool -- a twist that sets St. Marys apart from London and Stratford -- and takes less money to maintain.

But during breaks, a councillor was on the phone to the Western Fair Sports Centre, checking on the score.

Hockey feels like a big business when one ventures into the John Labatt Centre or the Air Canada Centre. It doesn't feel like that in Thamesford, Aylmer or St. Marys. But make no mistake, a franchise's three greatest concerns are still financial viability, volunteer recruitment and player eligibility.

Aylmer is the town that lost its junior B franchise (the Aces) in 2003. There was also a wildly successful senior team (the Blues), but it didn't last long. From the ashes, the Spitfires rose. The ownership includes 22 locals who pooled their dough. They play in the West Division of the Niagara and District junior C league and for the first time since Gavey joined, the Spitfires finished first.

It was a proud moment for all.

"The Norwich Merchants have been our nemesis and every year they've beaten us out," Gavey said. "I'm hoping this time is different. It's my last year and I'd love to go out with a win over them."

Naturally, the two are currently playing in the division final (tied 1-1). There's some colourful built-in sub-text left over from the regular season when some rowdies in Norwich gained access to the Spitfires bus and unloaded a fire extinguisher on the seats, forcing the players to catch rides back home with their fans.

At least Gavey didn't have to unpack the bus that night. Yes, even a fifth-year guy has to do the job largely sub-contracted to rookies on most other teams.

"When you're from Aylmer, you're always one of the guys who has to get all the gear together," he said. "The times we take a bus, the guys from here get everything ready to go and then we'll pick up guys at a meeting spot just off the highway."

These are the stories that remind one of the team's investors, Brian Sapezinskas, of the crazy times during his playing days. A member of the junior B St. Thomas Stars and Aylmer Aces in the early 1990s, he also played some C in Norwich. He's volunteering, as usual, by working the team's Blue Line Room and swapping tales with another old Ace, Greg (Shorty) Thompson. Sapezinskas' rug-rats are off running around the rink, perfecting their chuck-a-puck tosses.

"What else is there to do in Aylmer on a Wednesday night," Sapezinskas said, with a grin. "The arena is a meeting area for the town and in the playoffs, a lot more people come out to watch. There's Norwich fans here, the Merchants have always travelled well. It should be a great series."

The hockey community is a small one. When Sapezinskas was with St. Thomas, he played for a team that blew a 3-1 first-round series lead in 1992 to a London Nationals squad that went on to win the WOHL title.

Alymer's current assistant coach Mike Shewan, a former London Knight and senior Blues defenceman, played for that Nats club. One of the team's coaches was Dick Howard, who's been running the Thamesford bench just short of forever.

Trojans captain Jamie Jongsma, who attends Western's Ivey School of Business, played briefly for the Lincolns before heading to Thamesford three years ago. Trojans long-time trainer Bob McLeod also worked with the Nats for years and now assists with the Western men's hockey team.

It goes on and on in a big circle -- until everyone's included.

The first person you see while reaching for your wallet at the Thamesford rink is Kelly Gilbert. She's been selling tickets four years and anyone handing her a 10-dollar bill will get $20 worth of conversation.

She grew up in town and now lives in London, but has returned to the team. She can give you a scouting report on every player.

"I was on the phone to my sister right before Game 7 with Lucan and she got fed up and said, 'For five minutes, you're not going to talk about the Trojans, OK?' " she said with a laugh.

Your feet get numb standing around the boards for a period at Thamesford. There's a section of stands largely filled to the gills because Parkhill's North Middlesex Stars are in town and everyone expects it to be a whale of a Yeck Conference semifinal.

In playoff runs when the Trojans really do well, the spectators jam three and four deep right around the boards. The team had to put up a gate near its dressing room "because it got so crowded, that when a kid broke an ankle, our trainers couldn't wade through all the people to treat him," said Thamesford GM Keith Webb.

Tony Kelly, a retired teacher, has been the team's PA announcer for 32 years. He never gets frozen toes because there's a heater no one can see in the penalty box area.

An Irish immigrant in 1953, he fell in love with the game after a trip to Detroit to watch Gordie Howe and the Red Wings take on Rocket Richard and the Montreal Canadiens. He's never played the game but has witnessed all the great moments in Trojans history. His grandson Collin Shoreman now skates for the team on defence, giving him yet another reason to root for the home side.

"Friday night was always Falcon Crest and Dallas on TV and, instead of watching that, I would come down here," Kelly said. "That's how my wife and I have been able to stay married for 50 years. She'd watch that and I'd be here watching the hockey."

Jongsma is from London and notices a difference between big-city hockey and the small-town variety.

"When you're in these smaller centres, the games just seem like a bigger deal. You drive into town and there's a sign that tells you when the next game's going to be. It's one of the first things you see. As players, the great thing about coming out here is you're able to spend three or four days a week with your friends, with people you want to hang around with. After the game, we'll all go to the Blue Line Room and talk for a bit."

It isn't the NHL. There's no special effects or replay boards. No one expects the extras. They just want the game. But every once in a while, an organization will surprise you. The president of the OHA went to watch a playoff game in Exeter a few years ago and couldn't believe the show the team's volunteers put on for the fans.

"It was like a mini-NHL game," Ladds said. "The game presentation blew me away. They had giveaways and best seat in the house. It was everything you'd ever want."

The big difference is every seat is close to the action -- you get as close as you want if you're willing to freeze your toes -- and you're bound to meet some of the nicest people around.

_________________
Strathroy Loud Rocket Proud!

http://localsportsreport.com


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 2:09 pm 
Offline
User avatar

Joined: Sun Jun 27, 2004 10:34 pm
Posts: 2658
Location: London
I thought this article was very relevent to what's been discussed on this forum lately.

Part of it talks about the volunteers of some of these locals organizations and how long they've been around and how important these teams are to them.

To the posters that have made the comments about how volunteers are not important to a team and don't do anything anyways, why don't you take a moment and think about what all is done just so you can go out on that ice and a play a hockey game. The fundraising that is done during the off-season. The ladies that arrive at the arena at 5:00 or so for a 7:00 hockey game to set up the door and await the fans that will be taking in the game. The equipment guys and trainers that are at the arenas at all hours washing the game sweaters, washing the socks, making sure you have towels and shampoo for your showers, and packing up the sticks for a road game, making sure you have enough black white and clear tape, making sure they have sufficient supplies if, god forbid, you get injured, etc.

If you feel those volunteers are not important and don't do anything, how about you give it shot.

_________________
Strathroy Loud Rocket Proud!

http://localsportsreport.com


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 5:05 pm 
Offline
User avatar

Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2003 1:24 pm
Posts: 2089
Location: Watching some sport somewhere.
RocketGirl wrote:
I thought this article was very relevent to what's been discussed on this forum lately.

Part of it talks about the volunteers of some of these locals organizations and how long they've been around and how important these teams are to them.

To the posters that have made the comments about how volunteers are not important to a team and don't do anything anyways, why don't you take a moment and think about what all is done just so you can go out on that ice and a play a hockey game. The fundraising that is done during the off-season. The ladies that arrive at the arena at 5:00 or so for a 7:00 hockey game to set up the door and await the fans that will be taking in the game. The equipment guys and trainers that are at the arenas at all hours washing the game sweaters, washing the socks, making sure you have towels and shampoo for your showers, and packing up the sticks for a road game, making sure you have enough black white and clear tape, making sure they have sufficient supplies if, god forbid, you get injured, etc.

If you feel those volunteers are not important and don't do anything, how about you give it shot.


Hear hear! Many of us can relate, being volunteers for our teams. Might be interesting to make up a post and see just how many people who post here are currently volunteering or have done so in the past 2-5 years.

_________________
Volunteers built Noah's Ark, professionals built the Titanic


Top
 Profile  
 
PostPosted: Sat Mar 15, 2008 12:07 pm 
Offline
User avatar

Joined: Sun Jun 27, 2004 10:34 pm
Posts: 2658
Location: London
Our arena, Our Hockey, Our Town
Sat, March 15, 2008
London Free Press

By RYAN PYETTE, FREE PRESS SPORTS REPORTER

Yesterday, Free Press sports reporter Ryan Pyette explored the relationships between Southwestern Ontario junior hockey teams and their fans. Today, he delves into the business operations.

Keith Webb backs a van into a parking spot reserved for the manager of the Thamesford Trojans at the rear of the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League club's home arena. He lives "300 yards from the rink," but heck, if you have a parking spot, you may as well use it.

The Trojans are considered the one true dynasty in the league formerly known as junior D or Junior Development. They won three straight Ontario Hockey Association titles from 1990-92 and nearly won a fourth before running into the Mitchell Hawks in the 1993 final.

The Trojans are in the hunt annually, operating on one simple philosophy: "Let's make sure the boys have a chance to win it all every season." Easy to say, not so easy to do.

Of the 144 teams under the OHA banner, only a few have the ability to avoid a rebuild or changes to the staff. It's an unending cycle of finding players, paying bills and recruiting volunteers. There are two ways of running a team -- privately, or community owned. OHA president Brent Ladds has seen both work, and both struggle.

"There's no real secret formula," Ladds said. "If you have the private money, the challenge is volunteers and making the team fit into the community. If you're community owned, there's different challenges. You need a strong executive and good hockey people to make it work."

Thamesford has always been community owned and everybody likes that. The executive has no reason to distrust or question its coaches and managers. They're not exactly new faces.

"With (coaches) Dick Howard, Bob Henderson, (assistant GM) Charlie Hough and I, you're looking at close to 100 years of hockey experience," Webb said. "We know where our players are going to come from."

There's only one skater on the current team from Zorra Township. But they have been able to get players from Fanshawe College and Western. Captain and three-year veteran Jamie Jongsma is an Ivey School of Business student at UWO.

"If you're in school, you might not want to play junior B and get home off the bus from Leamington at 2 a.m.," Webb said. "We're offering an alternative to that. It's a short drive to London, the road trips aren't far and we practise once a week on Tuesdays."

It costs $40,000-$60,000 a year to run an SOJHL team. If you want to win, it pays to be at the higher end. A junior B (Western Ontario Hockey League) team has a bill of $125,000-$175,000, with some of the more successful franchises spending way more. A junior C club costs six figures.

The Aylmer Spitfires, currently playing the well-heeled Norwich Merchants in the Niagara and District junior C West Division final, are run by a large group of enthusiastic locals -- the way the Edmonton Oilers were for years. The Spits work the fundraising fun stuff that's always been done in Aylmer -- like BX93 dances -- but it's still the on-ice product that makes the difference. The longer you play, the better for the bottom line.

"If you don't have playoffs, you're going to eat some money," said Spitfires president Brian Cosyns. "It takes money to build a good team and when you do, every playoff gate is going to help. You win your division and that could be the difference in breaking even, which is the goal. You want to put yourself in a position to operate next year."

That's what has made the St. Marys Lincolns one of junior hockey's most astonishing cases the past half-century. The club is the second-oldest continually run team (behind the Waterloo Siskins) in as small a market as there is for junior B. Not only that, they're a 15-minute drive from the granddaddy of all franchises at that level -- the Stratford Cullitons.

"Sure, you'd always like a bigger drawing area -- I've always thought that in a place as big as London, the first 15 players the Nationals want should be their property but after that, it's wide open for the rest of us," said Lincs general manager Bill Bourne. "Yes, we're competing with Stratford, and Listowel even, but we've been able to find players. We lost a lot of talent this year and everyone thought we'd be in a big rebuild, but we still managed to finish second in the league (before losing to third-place London in the semifinals)."

There have been some lean years, of course, but not so many for a team that got its name because a Lincoln Continental car was raffled off back in 1954 to help raise money for the new club in town to get rolling. The fundraising tradition continues to this day thanks to an annual elimination draw with a grand prize of $25,000. Mayor Jamie Hahn, treasurer of the 1976 OHA champion team, knows what it takes to keep the team afloat.

"I've never won it (the draw) myself but I have sold the winning ticket," Hahn said. "You think about the challenge of selling 1,000 tickets worth $100 in a community of this size (about 6,500, right there with Aylmer). It's a huge undertaking but there's always a dedicated executive and you can never have enough volunteers. The work for the following season starts in June."

A playoff game in St. Marys has a similar feel to that of Aylmer and Thamesford and many of the other smaller centres across Southwestern Ontario. There's an ad-hoc admissions table set up near the arena entrance. There's 50/50 tickets, a snack bar, and of course a licensed blue-line room.

The difference in St. Marys now is the team's old arena is attached to the new Pyramid Recreation Centre, which features a second ice pad and a new salt-water pool the town hopes will be up and running within a month. The previous council drew opposition for the planned facility, but it was a "fait accompli" when Hahn rode back into power.

Still, it's a revamped facility the Lincolns can show their recruits. The team has undergone a resurgence under coach Merlin Malinowski, a former NHLer, and the plan has always been to get players to see St. Marys once, then work on having them stay. It's very similar to the town's marketing strategy.

"We try to sell Merlin to them," said recruiting co-ordinator and assistant coach Warren Nye. "The boys don't know who Merlin was because it was before their time, but if the fathers are die-hard hockey fans they remember when he played for Team Canada or the Colorado Rockies or the Hartford Whalers. We try to get them here first and if we treat them well, then we hope they're going to keep coming back. We have scouts all over keeping an eye on things for us, but most of our players are from around this area. We have to convince them why playing here is just as good or better than anywhere else."

They're always looking to build up loyalty and bolster the group of returning players, the kind Thamesford has fostered over the years. "We never lie to a kid," Webb said. "If we tell a player in June we're going to sign him, we sign him. If you don't tell the truth, then that gets around quick and it does all kinds of damage to your program."

The Trojans play in the SOJHL and a lot of that has to do with community size, but they hold little doubt they could operate at the junior C level -- something the entire Yeck Conference discussed doing a couple of years ago. "We would play junior C teams in exhibition games and beat them with scores like 7-3," Webb said. "Now, they don't want to play us anymore."

The beauty of being in a small town is the team's shindigs are often well-attended. There's a pride in helping out your friends and neighbours, from sponsoring a sweater to a fun evening out on the town.

"We have our fundraisers like the Calithumpian dance and when we have our annual fish fry, we have something like 700 people come out," Webb said. "If you're a thief, that's a good time to rob all the houses of Thamesford because there's almost nobody home. They're all down here eating fish."

In turn, the team is able to pay for the players' equipment and offer some vouchers for the super-expensive one-piece sticks. With many of the players from London, it sometimes makes more sense to pay for gas so the guys can drive to road games, rather than rent a bus.

Julie Gagliardi, whose son Chris is starting goalie for the Trojans, lives and works in London, but she never misses a game. "It's like a family here. And even when Chris is gone, I'm sure I'll come out still. We have another son coming up and maybe he'll want to play here, too."

At every level there are a lot of options. Each year, the teams lay their foundations and hope the players take root and grow. By playoff time in places such as Aylmer, Thamesford, St. Marys and beyond, the stakes change. It becomes about survival and keeping the game alive in town.

And when it finally ends --next year begins.

ONTARIO HOCKEY ASSOCIATION

Member teams: 144

Levels: Four junior tiers -- junior A; junior B; junior C; junior development (Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League). Two senior tiers -- senior AAA; senior AA and senior A, separate leagues, but grouped in the same tier.

Cost of living: Junior B: $125,000-$175,000, plus; junior C: More than $100,000; SOJHL: $40,000-$60,000.

_________________
Strathroy Loud Rocket Proud!

http://localsportsreport.com


Top
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 4 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  


Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group