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Key players unsure about future with Clarenville Caribous

Left, Dustin Russell, and right, Jason Churchill, have played with the team since the 2006-2007 inaugural season.
Left, Dustin Russell, and right, Jason Churchill, have played with the team since the 2006-2007 inaugural season. - -File photo

Captain Dustin Russell and goalie Jason Churchill’s positions still up in the air

Clarenville Captain Dustin Russell.
Clarenville Captain Dustin Russell.


Earlier this week, Clarenville Caribous fans were reassured the ‘Bous would indeed be playing hockey this season, as one of seven teams in the newly-minted Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NSHL).

What’s not clear yet, is what this season’s team might look like.

Related Story:Hockey NL reveals new format for senior hockey season

Caribous general manager Ivan Hapgood explained to The Packet that, due to the league’s policy of non-compensation, along with other factors such as aging ‘Bous and family commitments, he was expecting as much as a 40-50 per cent roster change.

“You’re going to see a much younger team,” he said.

And while the roster is not expected to be completed until Sunday evening, or even Monday, some key players have already shared their plans with The Packet.

“In all likelihood, I won’t be starting the season on the ice,” Clarenville Caribous captain Dustin Russell, 38, said.

“Where that will take me, whether I finish on the ice, I’m gonna leave that door open right now. I’ll certainly be helping within the organization, whether it is coaching or management or whatever that is,” he added.

Russell, who has been the team’s captain since the 2007-2008 season, and whose son T.J. was born this past June, says this decision doesn’t have so much to do with lack of remuneration, but that at this stage in his life, he needs to put more time into family and business.

“If I find the motivation to put myself, and my body, and my family, through what it takes to try and get another Herder and bring it back to Clarenville again, I think I’ll play,” he said. “But it certainly got nothing to do with being paid or not paid.”

Jason Churchill, 33, who like Russell suited up for the Clarenville Caribous in their inaugural 2006-2007 season and has played on the team faithfully for the past 12, (and who coincidentally fathered his firstborn, Hunter, in June as well) is also unsure of his future with the ‘Bous.

When asked if he would be playing this season, he admitted honestly that it was tough question.

Churchill, who lives in Halifax and is flown to Newfoundland for games on the team’s dime, says rumors of possible Thursday night games, coupled with a lack of pay and a newborn baby at home are all factors playing into his decision.

Caribous' goalie Jason Churchill argues the controversial final goal in game 5 of the 2017 Herder championship.
Caribous' goalie Jason Churchill argues the controversial final goal in game 5 of the 2017 Herder championship.

“I really enjoy playing hockey. But if I’m gonna be gone away from my family for maybe three or four nights, with nothing to show for it, that’s a harsh sell,” he explained.

“I’m still up in the air waiting for the schedule to come out so I can make a decision as to what I want to do… It’s a tough situation. Because I don’t want to call it quits…. I’m going to exhaust every option possible to make it happen,” he said. “But if I can’t make it work, I’m not closing the door completely, maybe I could even come back around next year.”

Both men, weighing the possibly that they may not be hitting the ice this season, took time to express their gratitude to the fans who have supported them over the years.

“But if it doesn’t work out, I’d like to say thanks to the fans for all the support throughout the years… Clarenville’s been a great community to play hockey in,” said Churchill.

“The fans have been great throughout every stage with the Caribous, especially when we first started senior hockey back in the old tin can. I remember coming back to that, freshly out of junior and the support that the town put into it was unbelievable,” he added.

“I own the fans a great deal of gratitude,” said Russell, who paid particular thanks to his wife, Patty, and parents, Frazer and Sherry, for their support over the years.

“We brought, together with our fans and our sponsors and the community, senior hockey back to Clarenville. It was dormant, it was gone, for so many years it was almost an afterthought, and here we are now with a brand-new arena, an Allen Cup Championship, four Herders, so many league championships, and so many great memories.”

“It’ll be hard. I have to give it up some day. The situation is now that it’s difficult to keep going and hard to give it up all at the same time,” he summarized.

The Packet will have more information on the Caribou’s roster as it becomes available.

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