The last Windsor Royals hockey team; 2011-12. (Carole Morris-Underhill photo)
The remaining executive members of the Windsor Royals society are keeping the Junior B hockey team off the ice beyond the planned one-year hiatus.
Gunn Smith, president of the Windsor Royals Hockey Club 2010 Society, recently informed the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League (NSJHL) the society has little interest in rejoining the league next season.
NSJHL president Dave Campbell says Smith advised the league the Royals executive would not be reapplying for a franchise in a brief email sent in early January.
“The way the letter is written it would appear they’re not interested in having a franchise in the league now, or in the future,” said Campbell, in a phone interview Jan. 8.
The 47-year-old Royals franchise was one of the oldest in the 11-team league, he noted.
“As far as the Windsor Royals go, we’d love to have them back. Certainly, with the history in the league, we’re sorry to see them go, but it was their decision not to come back.”
The Royals society applied for a leave of absence for the 2012/13 season, in spite of much public outcry, after months of in-fighting within the executive.
In an interview at The Hants Journal, Smith said the eight remaining executive members of the Royals society decided it was time to start spending more of the money raised through the hockey club’s television bingo on local hockey players, non-profit organizations and charities.
“Over the course of five years, eight per cent of all of the players that played for the Royals were local — eight per cent — and we had spent over $400,000,” he explained.
“When we had the Royals we were spending $80,000, $90,000 a year, and there were only two or three local players. We figured that if we’re going to spend that kind of money let’s spend it on… local kids.”
Smith says the Royals executive believes it’s time the bingo profits were extended beyond the Windsor Royals hockey team.
So far, he says the society has dolled out $2,600 to cover Hockey Nova Scotia registration fees for the Junior C Avon River Rats, purchased ice time for the Avon View High School hockey teams, spent between $3,000 and $4,000 a month on ice time for minor hockey games and practices, donated $1,000 to the Hants Community Hospital Auxiliary and chipped in $500 for the Bantam Boys Eastern Canadian Softball Championships in Saint Croix.
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In the future, the society plans to award $5,000 to $6,000 in scholarships to Avon View High School students seeking post-secondary education.
“We had looked at the big picture and we realized that the local community, the local minor hockey association, the local high school teams, the local high school, the hospital, service clubs… need more help and we’re making that money off of local bingos. We want to put it back into the community,” he said.
“That’s all there is to it.”
Smith, who played for the Royals in 1969, says the original plan was to take a leave of absence, sort through internal conflicts within the organization and work toward changing the level of support provided by the Windsor Royals Hockey Club 2010 Society.
“We were going to go to the community, say to the community, we will be a major sponsor up to the tune of $30,000 now you people have to come to the pump — if you want a team in this community, you have to come to the pump with the other $50,000.”
He says the Royals executive now feels it would be too difficult to recruit players and form a competitive team with the NSJHL’s newest Junior B squad, the Valley Maple Leafs, playing home games as close by as Kentville, Wolfville and Berwick.
“If you’re gonna go in that league, you want to be competitive. It’s no good going in there losing every game because you’re not going to get the crowds anyway — and you don’t get any crowds.”
Smith says the bingo money — not crowds — kept the Windsor Royals on the ice as long as they were.
“If we were depending on the crowds we wouldn’t have had a team.”
Valley Maple Leafs head coach Josh Dill, the last coach to lead the Royals before the team was disbanded, says he’s sorry to hear the Windsor Royals may never be back in action.
“We were actually hopeful they were going to come back into the league because it would have been a great rivalry.” Andy Woolaver, of the Valley Maple Leafs
“In my mind it’s too bad because the Windsor Royals financially had no issues because of the bingo they still have and now we’re fighting every minute just to try and find ways to pay for ice time, get kids to away games — everything.”
Dill says the Leafs are looking at fundraising $85,000 to $90,000 to keep the Valley-based hockey team alive.
“It’s a battle every day.”
Andy Woolaver, spokesperson for steering committee of the Valley Maple Leafs, was looking forward to the day the Annapolis Valley’s Junior B teams would meet at centre ice.
“We were actually hopeful they were going to come back into the league because it would have been a great rivalry,” he said.
The Valley Maple Leafs joined the NSJHL in July 2012, shortly after the Royals were granted a leave of absence, and at least 10 of the dispersed Windsor Royals were named to the Leafs’ roster.
Woolaver says the intent behind starting the Leafs was to ensure Junior B hockey has a presence in the Annapolis Valley, and local athletes have a place to play, but keeping the team alive on sponsorship alone — with no major fundraising source — is proving to be a difficult task.
“We’re not rubbing our hands together with glee that (the Royals) folded. If anything, I think their group should be recognized for fielding a team in the league all these years because we know firsthand financially how difficult that is.”
He says the Valley Maple Leafs executive would like to see the Leafs become a permanent fixture in the league, but the crowds have to pick up for the team, which is also run by a non-profit society, to become financially stable.
“The will is there to come back, but we’re going to be reliant upon sponsorship and fundraising the same as we are this year.”