You’ve heard talk about a local group reviving Junior ‘B’ hockey in Slave Lake. It turns out at the same time as that is happening, a U.S. Jr. ‘A’ league is expanding into western Canada and hopes to set up a team in Slave Lake for the 2018/19 season.
“We’ve got six sites confirmed,” says Derek Prue of the Western Provinces Hockey Association. “Slave Lake is one of them.” The others, he says, are Cold Lake, Meadow Lake Saskatchewan, Morinville, Edson and Hinton.
What’s being proposed is quite different than a community organizing its own franchise. Local involvement would certainly help, Prue says, but it isn’t necessary, at least at the start. This is echoed by his assistant Amy Morin, who was the one who called The Leader last week.
“We’ll start the team,” she says. “We just need to reach a certain amount of season ticket sales.”
Prue says the idea of starting a Junior ‘A’ franchise in Cold Lake has been in the works for a couple of years, but the existing leagues did not accept it.
Other more recent efforts to launch a new league have been “stonewalled” by Hockey Canada. Organizers have found a way around that by aligning themselves with a league in the western U.S., called WSHL. Prue says this league has been quite successful; for one thing it recruits players from around the world; for another, it gets a lot of attention from college recruiters. To make the franchises work in the new Canadian branch of the league, all that’s needed from the communities is the facility availability, plus that season ticket support. Ideally, he says, there would be some local players on the team.
“To be realistic,” he says, “you’re very lucky if you’ve got three or four. There’s a big difference between Junior ‘A’ and Junior ‘B.’
So what happens next? Prue says season tickets can be purchased online, at wpha.ca, for $350 apiece. However, in a chicken-or-egg scenario, it’s likely a team would actually have to exist before many people would shell out for a season ticket. Prue and crew are working on that.
“We’ll be there in the next week or so,” he says. “We’ll be meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, and Mayor Warman’s been a big help.”
Speaking of the mayor, he tells The Leader negotiations for lease space at the arena are underway, and the signs are encouraging.
“For us, anything that brings something new to town, increases use, is exciting. I wish them the best. We’re definitely interested.”