Proponent upbeat about Jr. ‘A’ hockey for this year

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Apples and watermelons. That’s how Derek Prue of the Western Provinces Hockey Association characterizes the difference between recruiting players for Junior ‘A’ and Junior ‘B.’
Prue is the principal in the effort of the Western States Hockey League (Jr. ‘A’) to expand into Western Canada. He’s had meetings with interested parties from Slave Lake and other towns, including one last week in Edmonton with groups from seven communities. And he’s feeling good about the prospects.
“It went really well,” he says. “The prospects (for Slave Lake) are excellent!”
Subsequent to that conversation, The Leader heard that a local party or parties who were interested in ownership of the team had decided not to do it. However, Prue has said more than once although the league would prefer local ownership of the team, it plans to go ahead regardless.
Asked (not for the first time) about the difficulties of recruiting players for small and somewhat remote places such as Slave Lake, Prue gives the above comparison. It isn’t at all like Junior ‘B,’ he says. With Junior ‘B,’ hockey is a part-time thing – something done on the side of priorities such as work or school. Junior ‘A’ is full-time, and there is a large pool of players (including international ones) who are out there looking for a way of moving up into the collegiate ranks, or even professional.
“I can’t stress how different the player pool is than Junior ‘B’”, he says. “There will be dozens of Junior ‘A’ players that want to play there that the team can’t accommodate. Of all the concerns I may have, getting players isn’t one of them.”
Okay. How about getting buy-in from a local ownership person or group?
“We’re in discussions with a number of people who are very excited and willing to pitch in.”
That’s one thing; another is hashing out a lease agreement on the arena. That isn’t done yet, but again, Prue is optimistic.
“There’s nothing that leads me to believe we can’t get a deal done,” Prue says.
Jill Shepherd, the town’s director of community relations, says there’s still plenty to be worked out as far as a lease agreement goes.
“There’s still stuff we need to figure out,” she says. “A lot of things are still up in the air.”
Things don’t always work out. Morinville – one of the ‘original six’ sites announced for a WPHA franchise – backed out a few weeks ago, according to news reports. Prue says it had to do with the expected new arena not being completed on schedule. However, it may be a blessing in disguise, he says, as “St Albert has come to the table, quite late.”
So – a lot to be done, but things are looking hopeful. Prue says the league has gotten season ticket commitments from around 100 people in Slave Lake so far – and that’s before an official announcement that it’s actually going ahead. He takes it as a very positive sign.
“We’re still moving towards a 2018 puck-drop,” he says.

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