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Central Newfoundland anxiously awaiting decision on senior hockey

Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts player Andre Gill is hopeful there will be another Central West Senior Hockey League season come fall. Gill, right, is pictured with Michael Brent after winning the 2017 Allan Cup in Bouctouche, NB.
Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts player Andre Gill is hopeful there will be another Central West Senior Hockey League season come fall. Gill, right, is pictured with Michael Brent after winning the 2017 Allan Cup in Bouctouche, NB. - Contributed

Hockey NL issues proposal for long-term viability of provincial leagues

Andre Gill makes no bones about it.

Coming upon his 10th season with the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, he’s starting the reach the end of his career.

When that time comes, the Botwood native, now living in Grand Falls-Windsor, hopes he can wrap it up as a player in the Central West Senior Hockey League (CWSHL).

“There comes a time when you probably should, but it’s hard to give up something that’s been such a big part your life,” Gill said of his 22-year involvement with the sport.

“I almost feel like I’m going to be forced to stop because I still really enjoy it.”

But he’s not sure if he’ll even have a say in the matter.

Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HockeyNL) and the league have yet to confirm a start date for the 2018-2019 season.

Earlier in the year there were rumblings the league would cease to exist once the 2018 season concluded due to financial difficulties.

On a year-over-year basis, for the three-team league, finances were stretched to the point where the Gander Flyers couldn’t finish out the season in 2017, and in 2018, Clarenville Caribous players went without pay to see them through to the playoffs.

Gill understands the challenges in keeping the sport going.

“It cost a lot of money for travel, equipment and other overhead cost,” he said. “(For the Cataracts) we really have great volunteers carrying out fundraising, and it’s happening nearly year-round, because you need the money upfront.”

Gary Gale, president of HockeyNL, said his organization has presented a proposal to all provincial leagues. He hinted the plan could bring some long-term stability to senior hockey.

“We don’t look at things in terms of one year, we look at leagues that are able to sustain hockey for many, many years to come,” he said.

The plan is currently under evaluation by the leagues, and Gale said the details won’t be released until something has been finalized.

“I can’t share it right now, but we should have something back from everybody within a week,” he said on Aug. 7.

It’s an announcement Gill awaits with anticipation.

“I’d love getting back for another season on the ice with my team mates and trying for another Herder,” he said. “This is my home, it’s where I grew up and learned to play hockey; being back home to play in front of friends and family, it’s always pretty special, and it’s something I try to enjoy whenever I get a chance to do it.”

Committed to play

As of press time Aug. 22, both the Gander Flyers and Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts have committed for another season.

Flyers general manager Garry White said there have been talks surrounding the Clarenville Caribous coming on for another season. He added there have also been discussions surrounding the Conception Bay South Cee Bee Stars returning to the league, bringing back interlocking play with the East Coast Senior Hockey League. The Stars sat out last season.

“For a while there wasn’t much happening, but now there is a lot of discussion taking place, there’s a lot of desire to see everyone move forward,” he said. “If something goes wrong, and there’s no hockey in Gander this year, I will be very shocked because every message we are getting over the past few weeks has been very positive.”

His optimism for another season is so strong, White has instructed the Flyers organization to get fundraising underway. Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts president Bryan Blackmore says his organization is doing the same.

“At the moment, we are feeling positive there will be a solution that allows hockey to continue here in central,” Blackmore said.

But the longtime Newfoundland hockey fan says a solid plan is needed to bring about a successful season.

“It needs everybody to be on board,” he said. “We are used to organizing for funds, travel and cost, if a new team enters, they have to figure how it’s going to work.”

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Caribous preparing for 2018-19

While the Caribous had initially implied after this past season they would prefer to play with the eastern teams rather than the teams in central, the team’s general manager Ivan Hapgood says there were no concrete decisions from last week’s meeting.

However, Hapgood told The Packet in an interview on Wednesday, Aug. 22 that from their perspective, the options to play with the ECSHL in the metro area were “limited.”

“We got treated with the utmost respect from the East Coast league, but as an organization, we didn’t think that’s what was best for us at this point in time,” said Hapgood.

Since the four teams met, the idea would be working a deal to join the CeeBees with the three CWSHL teams while still interlocking with the eastern league.

Last season saw plenty of financial struggles for the ‘Bous, and any plans for the future will have to take into account the costs of travel and other expenses.

“We’ve got some changes to make, we’ve got to look at salaries again,” said Hapgood.

“The players, they bought in last year and played for the second half of the season for nothing, and they know this year sacrifices have to be made or no hockey.”

However, Hapgood says not one player has indicated they won’t return to the Caribous for the 2018-19 season.

Hapgood says once the details are ironed out, the ‘Bous are ready to go full steam ahead.

Meanwhile, CWSHL president Neil Norcott told The Packet that while it is now premature to make any sort of official announcement on an agreement, there may be a statement in the near future.

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