SENIOR HOCKEY: Avalon East league turns thumbs down on expansion

Terry Roberts
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Future of senior hockey in Harbour Grace, Mount Pearl in jeopardy

A decision by the executive committee of the Avalon East senior hockey league to reject all applications for new teams for the 2014-15 season is being met with disappointment and anger in Conception Bay North.

CeeBees' executive president Nick Saunders.

It’s been learned that during a meeting on Tuesday, the executive decided that a four-team format will continue for the upcoming season, with teams based in Bell Island, Torbay, St. John’s and in Mobile on the Southern Shore.

The decision likely leaves two well-known teams — the CeeBee Stars of Harbour Grace and the Mount Pearl Blades — without a league to play in this season.

An effort by hockey enthusiasts in the Whitbourne area to enter a team in the league also appears to have fallen short.

It’s the latest twist in a series of dramatic moves on the senior hockey scene in this province, and it’s not sitting well with Nick Saunders, president of the executive committee that manages the affairs of the CeeBee Stars.

“We don’t know what to do now,” Saunders said.

He said the team is now “treading water,” despite the best efforts of hockey leaders in Conception Bay North and Mount Pearl to convince the Avalon East brain trust to welcome the two teams back into the fold.

“Right now, there may not be any senior hockey for CBN or Mount Pearl,” said Saunders.

The circumstance was created in June after the six-team Newfoundland Senior Hockey League was disbanded, and four teams — Clarenville, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor and Corner Brook/Deer Lake — were given the green light by Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador to establish a central-west league, which will begin play this fall.

This left the CeeBees and the Blades in the wilderness.

Over the summer, supporters of both teams began making overtures to the Avalon East league for membership.

Saunders said they did everything that was asked, including submitting potential rosters.

But in the end, it wasn’t enough.

For many, the decision does not come as a surprise. The CeeBees and the Blades bolted from the Avalon East league several years ago to join the upstart provincial league, and the break-up wasn’t pretty.

There was a battle over league royalties that made its way into the justice system, with the CeeBees eventually prevailing.

“We had put that behind us, and we were hoping they had too,” said Saunders, adding that expanding the Avalon East league to six teams would have been great for hockey in the region.

Unlike the provincial circuit, he said, the Avalon league features local players, and is run on a much tighter budget.

Saunders said the CeeBees and the Blades were willing to play by whatever rules were put in place by the league.

But he said the league never really seemed to take it seriously.

“It was hard to get meetings with them,” said Saunders, “but we were patient and understanding.”

He said reaction to the rejection has been pouring in.

“I have been overwhelmed with emails,” said Saunders.

He added that officials with the senior council of HNL have suggested a couple of options, including a series of exhibition games between the CeeBees and the Blades throughout the season, with the winner facing off for the Herder Memorial Trophy against the winner of the central-west league.

Saunders dismissed this notion outright, saying it’s unlikely that fans, sponsors or players would buy into this concept.

The prospect of forming a separate league, perhaps with a team from Whitbourne, is also a longshot, added Saunders.

He said it’s hard not to feel bitter about the situation. He said the CeeBee Stars have iced a very successful team, having appeared in eight Herder finals over the past decade, and winning four.

And if the team is forced to sit idle for a season or longer, he’s doubtful it will recover, adding “it won’t be me” who makes the effort.

Geographic location: Avalon East, Mount Pearl

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  • Mind reader
    September 01, 2014 - 07:41

    Well so much for trying to pressure S.w moores for a better deal, saying you would take the team elsewhere . Town of Harbour Grace done there part . So Hr . Grace says Bye and of course good luck. Feels for Nic Saunders the only genuine guy there

  • Snook
    August 30, 2014 - 23:49

    Typical of CBN hockey. Nobody wants anything to do with them. Good luck to the mighty CeeBees in the hockey abyss.

  • Snook
    August 30, 2014 - 23:41

    Typical of CBN hockey. Nobody wants anything to do with them. Good luck to the mighty CeeBees in the hockey abyss.

  • Shutey
    August 27, 2014 - 20:37

    Looks good on them. I guess they shouldn't have sued the league two years ago when they left them high and dry with only 3 teams to survive on their own. Now they are back begging to rejoin the league they left. All teams in the east league play with locals. How many locals did each of these teams have? Not enough to haul up a punt. Seems like they've now wore out their welcome all over the island, seems like a repetitive story with the two teams. Blame the East League, blame HNL, don't blame the two teams for what they've done the past two-three years, god no, they can do no wrong

    • SP
      August 28, 2014 - 07:30

      They left the east because they were getting blown out every year in the herder, and their players were bolting west. AESHL would not adapt. By the way, both teams were asked to join the newly formed league when it was developed, they were not left without a game as you state, and stop using an alias that you know a well known member of the ceebees executive uses, it just makes any point you are trying to make that much more irrelevant. Ceebees and MP have been left without a game, this has never happened in senior hockey history, 2 teams with full rosters that do not have anywhere to play. Oh ya, and further to my point of both teams being asked to join the league 2 years ago when ceebees and blades left, lets not forget the enormous bank account they had, a bank account that was built on the backs of the ceebees from their 7 herder appearences resulting in sell outs at mile one. Lets not forget that.

  • Shutey
    August 27, 2014 - 20:34

    Looks good on them. I guess they shouldn't have sued the league two years ago when they left them high and dry with only 3 teams to survive on their own. Now they are back begging to rejoin the league they left. All teams in the east league play with locals. How many locals did each of these teams have? Not enough to haul up a punt. Seems like they've now wore out their welcome all over the island, seems like a repetitive story with the two teams. Blame the East League, blame HNL, don't blame the two teams for what they've done the past two-three years, god no, they can do no wrong.

  • John
    August 27, 2014 - 13:50

    You made your bed now you will have to lie in it. That's what happens when you chase the allure of the big bucks HAHA!!

  • McLovin
    August 27, 2014 - 13:30

    Looks good on them!!!! This league wasn't good enough for them two years ago. I wouldnt want them back either. They'll just leave again in a few years when the teams from the West get their finances straightened away.

  • Toby
    August 27, 2014 - 12:57

    I guess when they submitted their list of 9 locals that included Roger Kennedy (mt pearl) Jamie Tobin ( Shore), Kevin Reid (whitbourne) Colin Feehan (torbay) etc. the league realized they have no players that are actually from the area. Avalon east league teams are comprise of players residing from the local community + players taken in a draft. They don't have enough locals interested. Mt Pearl - see above. Whitbourne would need the 5 locals that currently play for northeast. Do the math, why would you add teams that would make another team fold. Ask the blades about gander joining the provincial league and where that left them. On the outside looking in.

    • Tobie
      August 28, 2014 - 08:44

      Sounds like you have knowledge of what transpired, a list that was submitted, not sure this was public knowledge, and exactly what players were on it. Why didnt the avalon east league go back to the teams with certain conditions, highlight what players were eligible and what players were not? Let the teams then decide if they want to move forward with local and drafted players? From what the article reads, they were flat out denied. I am not even sure if this is possible under hockey canada rules?

  • watcher
    August 27, 2014 - 11:47

    So we have two teams that were kicked out of the league they played in last year and now not allowed to join the only other league available to them. Way to go HNL and Avalon East League!!!! We've had senior hockey in CBN for nearly the past 10 years and now it's coming to an end because HNL won't take a stand on this. Unbelieveable!!!