Three hockey groups are after the ice time traditionally reserved for the Windsor Royals at the Hants Exhibition Arena.
“We have had a lot of requests for that coveted ice time,” VanEssa Roberts, Windsor’s recreation director, announced at a committee of the whole meeting Feb. 12.
The Royals had the ice for Friday night games and Wednesday evening practices.
“Ice time in the evening is in high demand,” Roberts said.
Four hockey groups, including the non-profit society that once iced the Windsor Royals, are after the ice time that opened up when the Royals society did not reapply for a franchise in the Nova Scotia Junior B Hockey League in mid-January.
“The Windsor Royals have expressed an interest in continuing with their ice time and donating it back to help grow minor hockey,” Roberts said.
Representatives of the West Hants Minor Hockey Association, Junior B Valley Maple Leafs and Junior C Avon River Rats took turns pleading their cases to council at the committee of the whole meeting.
Greg Kelley, president of the minor hockey association, told council it is important to ensure developing hockey players, many of whom will one day grow to play junior hockey, have a fair shot at the ice time.
“We’re the grassroots level of hockey,” Kelley said.
The minor hockey association in West Hants ices 24 teams. That, Kelley noted, means the Warriors’ games bring 24 visiting teams into the area on a regular basis.
Kelley said the minor hockey association is experiencing steady growth, but that growth can easily be stunted by a lack of available ice time that is suitable for younger, school-aged players.
“If we get one more team of minor hockey, we do not have enough ice time to ice every team,” he said.
The Royals society donated the sought after Wednesday evening practice time to minor hockey for development programs this season.
“All of us as stakeholders need to come and share this ice and find a way that we can co-ordinate our programs,” Kelley said.
Andy Woolaver, the president of the Valley Maple Leafs Jr. B Hockey Club executive, said his team is seeking practice time and the Friday night game slot, but they’re willing to work around minor hockey to allow the younger players to hit the ice earlier in the evening.
“We’d be certainly fine with that as we’d have access to some time on the Wednesday.”
Woolaver said the Valley Maple Leafs booked 17 home games, in three Kings County arenas, this season.
“Ice time is like diamonds; it’s very precious.”
He said at least three teams in their league host home games Friday evenings, and noted that the Avon River Rats could use the prime game time in the Windsor arena when the Maple Leafs are away.
“Ice time is like diamonds; it’s very precious.” - Andy Woolaver
“We feel that there’s a way to accommodate the game date request for both the Junior B and Junior C users.”
Amanda Purcell, president and owner of the Avon River Rats, feels it is imperative some of the Friday night game times in Windsor are freed up for the River Rats.
“I just think that you keep saying we need junior hockey in the community, but people keep kind of forgetting that Junior C is still junior hockey and there was Junior C in Windsor for a lot of years.”
The Avon River Rats typically host home games Sundays at 1 p.m. in the Newport and District Rink.
“To be totally honest, the only way that this team will keep going is if we can get a later ice time in order to get that revenue and to bring people out to the games,” she said.
Purcell said the River Rats almost applied for a one-year hiatus this season, like the Windsor Royals, but she had 30 guys that wanted to play hockey, and they were too old to play in the minor leagues.
“Without Junior C they don’t have a place to go and they’re way too young to be playing beer league at that age.”
Many local players turn to Junior C once the graduate from high school, or grow out of minor hockey. Purcell said 85 to 90 per cent of the River Rats’ team was comprised of local players.
“I believe that is where you will support the youth from this community.”
The Royals society’s executive members donated the Friday evening game time the Windsor Royals held while on hiatus to the River Rats twice this season.
Glen Wentzell, the arena manager, said the ice time early in the day, during regular work and school hours, is available, and there is a late Saturday evening slot up for grabs, but those times are hard sells. Otherwise, the arena is booked solid.
“Looking at it from a business point, it doesn’t really matter what is on it, as long as somebody’s on it,”Wentzell said.
Mayor Paul Beazley said it would be best for the groups to work together to sort out the ice scheduling issue, but he would like to see Junior B hockey back in Windsor. Coun. Dave Seeley also said Junior B should be at the top of the “pecking order.”
Town council asked the groups to collaborate, and work with the town’s recreation staff, to come to an agreement.