© Photo by Nicholas Mercer
Terry Roberts is the senior editor at The Compass
Editor's note: the following editorial also appears in the Jan. 29, 2013 print edition of The Compass.
After weeks of speculation, it's now known publicly that the CeeBee Stars of the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League is a team with an uncertain future.
Officials and players with the Harbour Grace based club confirmed last week that the level of attendance at home games has not been enough to sustain the team, and belt-tightening measures have been implemented in order to get through the remainder of the season.
Beyond that's, it's anybody's guess.
Should we be surprised? Not at all. Anyone plugged in to the senior hockey scene in this region must have seen it coming.
That said, the CeeBees have received tremendous support from the local business community. One only needs to look around the rink, on the back of jerseys and on the team's website (http://www.ceebeestars.com) to see evidence of this. The coaching staff should also be commended for their attempts to build a winner, and have attracted some of the best players available.
But in order to successfully compete in what many considering a semi-pro league, where teams travel long distances and players get paid, a solid fan base is extremely important. While the team has its diehards, and they are among the best in the five-team league, there simply aren't enough of them.
To see large sections of the S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium unoccupied during games is a death knell. The team is drawing a paid attendance somewhere in the neighbourhood of 450-plus fans per game, which is well below the numbers that flock to arenas in Clarenville, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor and Deer Lake. And ticket prices are lower in Harbour Grace.
One official described the team's take from the two recent home games as "pathetic," and even the split from the 50/50 - under $600 for one recent game - had tongues wagging.
It all culminated with a team meeting last week, where a plan was devised to make it through the final few weeks of the season, which includes an important home game against Clarenville on Friday, and two homes games against Gander on Feb. 9 and 10 that could determine whether the CeeBees make the playoffs.
So how did we get to this point? The first factor is the team's record. Despite an impressive roster, the team has won only once on home ice this season, though every game has been close, proving the CeeBees can compete in this league. And there's plenty of whispers that if the team can advance to the post-season, some upsets could be in the offing.
But many also point to the league schedule as a factor. CeeBee fans became accustomed to the home and home weekend format when the team competed in the Avalon East League, with the CeeBees hosting on Saturday nights. They also expected a winning team. Year in and year out, the CeeBees contended for the Herder Memorial Trophy, and actually won it on three occasions.
In the NLSHL, home and home weekend tilts are impossible because of the distances between teams, and Sunday afternoon games have become the norm.
Some have also speculated that proximity to St. John's and that city's American Hockey League franchise is bleeding support from the CeeBees.
Whatever the reason, a stark reality is now on the horizon, and questions are being asked. Does senior hockey have a future in Conception Bay North? Should the team make a return to the Avalon East League? Could the team have done more to attract fans to home games? If the team folds after this season, is it possible to revive the storied franchise once a new arena is built in Harbour Grace?
And fans should also ask themselves if they could have done more to support the team.
These and other questions will be answered in due course, but for now it's important that the team finish the season on a high note. We all have a role to play in ensuring that happens, not just the players.
— Terry Roberts