St. Stephen Aces hockey team, on brink of folding, appeals for help

The Maritime Junior A hockey team in St. Stephen is having trouble making ends meet and is looking to the community for help.

St. Stephen's Maritime Junior A hockey team is running a $50,000 deficit and now faces an unknown future

The Aces Junior A team was formed four years ago and played to good crowds for much of that time, but it's run a deficit every year. (Courtesy St. Stephen Aces)

St. Stephen's Maritime Junior A hockey team, The anchor tenant at the town's Garcelon Civic Centre, is facing an uncertain future amid financial hardship.

The St. Stephen Aces shared the news with members of the St. Stephen Area Chamber of Commerce last week as part of its appeal for community support.

The Aces came into existence four years ago and have played to good crowds of 750 to 900 fans for much of that time.

However, the team has run a deficit every year, with the latest one projected between $50,000 and $70,000.

Home game ticket sales — ranging from $8 to $10 — average around $8,000 a game for 24 home games in a season, but that doesn't account for even half the team's budget of about $450,000. 

"There's always a shortfall at the end of the year, so when you start your next season, you're struggling to catch up with your bills," Aces governor, Mike Horne told Information Morning Saint John.

"The challenges are in finding funding somewhere within the community. Hopefully we'll get people to step up and help us out."

Mike Horne is the governor of the St. Stephen Aces. Officials say they can't do it for another year without help from the community. 6:30

When the team first took to the ice at the 1,100 seat civic centre, officials thought it would be easy to land corporate sponsorships.

But that wasn't the case, said Horne.

The Aces have two major corporate sponsors, and "a bunch of other generous people helping us out, but it's not enough to cover the difference," Horne said.

"We did a fundraising campaign last year and it wasn't very successful. We approached different businesses in the community and it wasn't what we expected we would get from it."

Losing the Aces would be a 'big blow' to the $20 million Garcelon Civic Centre, according to the team's governor. (Neville Crabbe/CBC)

Officials brought in a local, retired accountant to take a look at the team's books, and he determined the budget they have laid out is necessary to maintain the team.

"So there is no real way to cut costs," said Horne.

"Our biggest costs are travel, accommodations and meals. When we go on the road, it's an overnight trip, it's a $5,000 to $7,000 bill."

May have to move

Officials are considering all options for the team at the moment, and haven't ruled out moving it to another community.

No one has approached the team about it yet, Horne said.

Another possibility is folding the team, and putting its players into an expansion draft to be picked up by other teams next year.

"It's not a dead issue yet," Horne said. "We've had some interest … but we need to make a decision going forward by the end of March."

The Aces players come from all over Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. They range in age from 16 to 20, have a passion for hockey, and hope to attend colleges or universities that are part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

"Their ambitions are to play hockey, to pick up scholarships from NCAA colleges, and continue on with their life," said Horne.

With files from Information Morning Saint John