Keeping senior hockey in CBN

Nicholas Mercer
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CeeBee Stars president confident team will return for 2014-15 season

If Eastlink CeeBee Stars president Nick Saunders has anything to say about it there will be senior hockey in Harbour Grace next season.

CeeBees' executive president Nick Saunders.

“Senior hockey is a staple in our community and CBN … and if we don’t ice a team next October, there will be a lot of sad and disappointed people on Saturday nights and we can’t let that happen,” he said.

Saunders spoke with the Compass less than a week after the Mount Pearl Blades had eliminated the CeeBees from the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League playoffs on Feb. 21.

To ensure that will happen, the CeeBees are looking at other ways to drum up interest amongst its fanbase.

“We have to be creative,” said Saunders.

The team made inroads in that department. The CeeBees started a school-of-the-week program this season, inviting students from a school in the Trinity-Conception region to a parcel of free tickets.

For many, it was their first senior hockey experience.

The team also partnered with minor hockey associations to provide free admission for young players.

“I thought things were good,” said Saunders.


Fanbase drop

Saunders indicated that while the league is at an all-time high with regards to player skill level and on-ice product, there seems to be an exodus of fans in all centres.

Last year, the CeeBees average attendance at games was 530. This season, Saunders estimates the season average will be between 80 and 90 less.

“It’s a reflection in percentage and ratio right across the league,” he said.

Saunders was at a loss when asked why fans across the province were walking away from the league.

“I wish I knew the answer,” he said.

In the meantime, the club will be making a concerted effort to curb the downward swing in fan support.

There are a number of strategies that could be employed.

“How do we get that up to a more manageable number, like 500-600, and if that’s not possible, based on the fans we are getting, what do we have to do fundraising-wise to offset that additional margin?” he noted. “That’s what we have to do going forward.”


Interesting year

The CeeBees had an interesting year on the provincial senior circuit.

Although the team was the defending Herder Memorial Trophy champions, the season began with a very public outcry for fan support a week before the season began.

At times, the CeeBees seemed to struggle through a season that saw the team register 10 wins, 13 losses and one overtime loss.  Other times, the team appeared to be on the cusp of doing something special.

There were many nights the team struggled to ice a full team, and the players who were able to regularly strap up played admirably.

“It certainly wasn’t what we had mapped out,” said Saunders.


Need volunteers

It has become a yearly thing for the CeeBees to call for an increase in volunteer support.

Saunders said the group is thankful for the “great group” of volunteers the club already has, but “they are small in number.”

“These are the same people who are volunteering on non-game days, and they are the same people volunteering on game days,” he said. “There is only so much they can do.”

On the flip side, Saunders said the team’s corporate support was second to none.

Although the CeeBees are billed as a regional team, there are still pockets of people who see the club as a one-community team.

“We have the Junior Stars who play out of Bay Arena, and I think we have to better affiliate ourselves with them … and I think we have to continue doing what we’re doing with minor hockey and having a partnership with not just with CeeBees minor hockey but with Bay Arena minor hockey and so on,” said Saunders.

Saunders again highlighted the work done with area schools to bring new fans to the game and some of the other positive inroads into the region.

“Our goal is to make sure there is senior hockey not only for next year, but for years on end,” he said. “I think it makes our dreary, long winters more enjoyable.”

Organizations: Newfoundland Senior Hockey League

Geographic location: Bay Arena

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