Game tickets were already printed.
Team sponsors were in place.
Management was ready to put in the work to keep the game alive.
It seemed like everything was rosy for the Deer Lake Red Wings to return to the ice to defend its West Coast Senior Hockey League championship.
That optimism went awry quickly, though, when it came to player commitment for the 2018-19 season, and Red Wings general manager Perry Compton didn’t see it coming.
The Red Wings announced over the weekend they wouldn’t be back for another season after coming to the painful realization there weren’t enough committed players to form a team for the four-team senior hockey setup in the west.
Compton said the organization made the tough decision to fold after having small numbers show up for the four open tryout sessions.
The Red Wings had a 25-man roster to work with last season, but 16 of those won’t be back this year for different reasons and only five or six players from that 25-man roster actually lived in Deer Lake.
“Not having the players, I have to tell you, that was the farthest thing from our minds,” Compton said. “We never thought it was going to be like this. We knew it was going to be a struggle, but we never thought it would be like this.”
Compton said management wasn’t willing to put in the required time and commitment to keep the team in the mix when there were clearly not enough bodies to form a team.
He praised the other three teams’ management teams for keeping senior hockey alive in their respective communities and believes there are some good people involved in the game, so he doesn’t rule out a return down the road.
A four-team league would have been ideal, Compton figures, so he worries about the future of senior hockey on the west coast with only three teams operating.
“I think the variety with three teams isn’t the same,” he said.
The league, which will open Nov. 16, will continue with three teams — the Corner Brook Royals, Stephenville Jets and Port aux Basque Mariners — participating in a 12-game regular season.
Any former Red Wings players still wanting to play in the league must enter a dispersal draft. The draft is scheduled for Thursday night, with the Jets picking first, the Royals getting the second pick and the Mariners following up with No. 3. Any player wishing to have their name submitted in the dispersal draft must contact league president Wayne Hounsell.
Here’s what the general managers of the three remaining teams had to say about forging ahead with a three-team setup:
Jets general manager Art Barry isn’t happy about the league losing a team and his heart goes out to the people who have worked hard to keep senior hockey alive in Deer Lake.
“It’s sad to see (Deer Lake) go, to tell you the truth,” Barry said. “Bringing us down to a three-team league isn’t nice, but we’re going to forge ahead and hopefully Deer Lake will be back in again next year.”
Barry said people in all four centres have done what they can to provide a game of senior hockey free of charge to those who want to play and doesn’t think anything can be done if there is no interest in a particular area.
“We can only give them a game of hockey and if they don’t want to buy into that then I guess my only suggestion is for the boys to go back playing recreational hockey,” he said.
Corner Brook Royals
Corner Brook Royals president Dennis Waterman didn’t want the rival Red Wings on the sidelines this year because he believes the defending champions are a big part of the landscape and the team that puts forward the most challenge to his team in the quest for a championship.
“We’re not happy that they left the fold, but we understand all the reasons as to why they did, and hopefully they’re going to be able to regroup and next year come back with a competitive team again,” Waterman said.
He wasn’t overly surprised to see the Red Wings take a year off because management of the team had made it clear over the past few months that they were having trouble with forming a competitive roster, with a lot of players from last year’s roster no longer available to the team for various reasons.
“It didn’t come as a shocker as such,” he said.
Port aux Basques Mariners
Port aux Basques Mariners GM Shannon Battiste wasn’t available for comment on Monday.