For a Central Division final, with the winner going on to represent the region at the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League championship, James Brenton couldn’t help but notice something lacking at Joe Byrne Memorial Arena on March 10.
While there were fans in the stands to watch the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts take on the Gander Flyers, there were rows of empty seats in the arena.
“Three years ago, you couldn’t get a ticket,” said Brenton, who has been following the Cataracts for the last four years.
Brenton says the hockey style has changed over the years and the aggressive side of the sport older patrons are used to isn’t what it used to be.
He thinks it may have something to do with a waning interest in senior hockey. That and a limited team selection, a sentiment that was echoed by other nearby spectators.
“It’s sad,” a fan said about having the Flyers and Cataracts as the only two teams in the Central Division this year.
Brenton said if the games were harder hitting and more diverse, it could bring fans back.
For the 2018-2019 season, the Central West Senior Hockey League and the East Coast Senior Hockey League combined to form the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League. This was done to create interlocking play between the two divisions, ensuring senior hockey would continue in central Newfoundland.
Dave Nichols has been following the Cataracts for years as well.
He agrees attendance isn’t what it used to be. People have busy schedules, he said, and it’s been a bitterly cold winter.
Nichols said he’s watched some great games this year, but cited issues when it comes to interlocking play. An east coast team opted out of travel, creating scheduling gaps. Others, he said, have shown up without a full roster, which dilutes the quality of play and may have contributed to fans staying away.
As the Cataracts pushed forward to take a 3-1 series lead over the Flyers in the series, fans were a little reluctant to claim victory just yet.
Brenton noted competition between the two teams has been tight in the past.
“They are both good teams,” he said. “This could still go down to seven games.”
Neither Nichols or Brenton could say what that means come next season, but both hope senior hockey will continue on in central Newfoundland.