UPDATED JULY 8
Despite an outpouring of community support, the Windsor Royals won't be icing a team this season.
Dan Boyd, the president of the Windsor Royals Hockey Club 2010 Society, confirmed July 7 that the Royals were granted a one-year hiatus by the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League's board of governors.
The request was granted after months of in-fighting within the Royals executive. The majority of the board members wanted a one-year's leave of absence for the team, while four lone members lobbied to keep the Royals operational.
In the end, the NSJHL's board of governors, composed of representatives from each team in the league, agreed with the majority and granted the hiatus.
“We want to explore options as to the development of local talent. But as far as the future of the Royals, we've been given a year's leave of absence — nothing more, nothing less,” said Boyd in an interview July 7.
Grant Veinot, the team's alternate governor, confirmed in a brief phone interview July 7 that the league approved the request and gave the executive direction as to how to re-join the league next season.
“All they wished us to do was attend their meeting in January so we can notify them of our plans for the following season,” Veinot said.
Boyd said they will be required to present a specific business plan for the 2013-14 season in January 2013 to the board of governors to be able to return as an active team in the league.
Although the team wasn't penalized for the leave of absence, Boyd said they were required to pay 60 per cent of the team's NSJHL $3,200 registration fee. He said it was required “in order to grant us that year's leave of absence and to show that we have goodwill intended.”
He feels the cooling off period will be beneficial.
“We can be accused of being the bad guys. We can be accused of this and that, but when the truth is shone on the whole issue, it's clearly that it was just a bad, bad situation and we really believe a cleansing for a year will be a good thing,” said Boyd.
While the Royals take a break, Boyd said the executive will be busy working on a business plan so the team can return to the league for the 2013-14 season. They will also be looking for ways to help the various levels of hockey already in town, creating a special hockey scholarship and focusing on developing local talent.
“I think we can do some good things with hockey this year in Windsor. I think we can help minor hockey a whole lot more,” said Boyd. “The high school team had a phenomenal year last year and we hope to talk to the head coaches or the coaching staff of the Avalanche and see how we can help them.”
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They're also looking at donating their ice time to several groups. The Jr. C Avon River Rats have already expressed interest, Boyd said.
“Ice time is at a premium in this area. Brooklyn and Windsor, you cannot get ice time. So we feel by having our ice time available Wednesday nights for an hour and a half and Friday nights for three hours, we can really assist the players that want to develop,” said Boyd.
“The real negative people might say 'well what's a year going to do?' Well, a year is going to do more than if they didn't have it at all. They're not going to become instant stars in a year but a solid year's development can only assist. It sure as heck can't hurt them,” he added.
What about the players?
But, the hiatus is something not everyone is in favour of.
Dale Evans, the former vice-president of the executive, lead the charge to save the Royals from the one-year leave of absence. He was very disappointed to learn the decision, as was all those lobbying to see a team compete.
“The four minority directors have been in constant discussion this afternoon (July 7) and we're all pretty upset, as are a lot of community supporters that thought for sure that we had something going, thought we had a case,” he said.
“What's wrong is wrong and what's right is right. What's wrong is not having a team and that's what everybody believed in.”
Evans said it's unfortunate the talented hockey players got caught in the middle of the dispute.
“I had 14 emails from players that were willing to come back and play for a team in Windsor. But now they don't have a choice. They have to go wherever they're told to go,” said Evans.
He said even if a new Junior B team could be iced for the 2012-13 season, however unlikely, it would cost too much to bring the players back to Windsor.
“If they want to come to Windsor, it's not going to be for nothing. Even if we did have a team this year, it's going to be 20 brand new people,” said Evans. “It's Junior B hockey but it'd be tough — really tough to get a team going. That saddens me as well that we don't have the option to pick up some of these players that want to play for Windsor.”
All of the eligible Royals were put in a dispersal draft and picked up by the various teams.
“This is a gift for the other teams,” said Evans of the dispersal draft.
“We can be accused of being the bad guys. We can be accused of this and that, but when the truth is shone on the whole issue, it's clearly that it was just a bad, bad situation and we really believe a cleansing for a year will be a good thing.” Royals president Dan Boyd
All-star goalie Jacob McKendry was snatched up by the Glace Bay Junior Miners. Joining him on that team will be Logan Phillips.
Nathan Little, another all-star, was selected by Cumberland County.
The local players — Mark Swain, Brandon Parker and Jake Galbraith — will be playing for Antigonish, Pictou County and St. Margaret's Bay, respectively.
“For certain individuals, it breaks my heart that they're not going to be able to play hockey in Windsor this year. It literally breaks my heart and I'll say that very sincerely,” said Boyd.
“There were three or four players that I know had all good intentions but the rest of them... said they wanted to play but they didn't want to play in December and they didn't want to play for anybody else in February but that's history. I better not get into that too much.”
The Hants Journal first reported on the clash between the executive and the hockey team in February of this year. Some of the executive members fired, then promptly rehired, the head coach and assistant coaches during the team's playoff series with East Hants.
Evans said he knows the idea of taking a hiatus was being batted around as far back as January.
“I don't think anybody truly thought that this was going to happen,” said Evans.
“Everywhere I go, whether it's the grocery store, the hardware store, (or) if I'm getting my hair cut, people are coming up to me and saying 'I heard about the Royals, are we going to make it?' People are genuinely concerned that there is not going to be a hockey team,” said Evans. “ I think now that the news is out that there isn't going to be a hockey team, I don't think it matters what Dan Boyd and the others write in the newspaper to try and justify this. People are going to be outraged.”
Evans, who hopes the year's absence is just that — one year and not forever, said he hasn't thrown in the towel just yet and is still investigating various ideas and options. He said he will always support whatever Junior B incarnation takes the ice but will likely focus his attention on getting a new arena built, or the current one renovated.
“Our association's membership says as long as there's players in Windsor after minor hockey that want to continue there will always be a Junior B team. Obviously that's not the case at all,” said Evans.