Last month, Clarenville was the perfect host as the 2014 Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games played out in great weather, great organizational work and outstanding fan support.

This month, that fan support will be once again out in force as the town’s main winter centrepiece — the Clarenville Caribous senior hockey team, not the ski hill — chases its annual goal of a provincial hockey title. The Caribous have been the toast of that town since their inception. The old building was filled to the rafters whenever the ‘Bous played. The new Clarenville Events Centre is also filled when the puck drops.

Fan support is manifested in more than attendance at the arena for games. Local sponsors have jumped on board and helped the team — with a budget in the hundreds of thousands — stay afloat. All in all, the team has had the full attention of the town in winter months.

Hockey puck

The finals for the Herder Memorial Trophy begin this weekend in Grand Falls-Windsor. (Shutterstock )

That attention will magnify this weekend as the Caribous begin play in the 2014 Herder Memorial Trophy finals against the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts. At least organizers hope it will magnify.

Unlike previous years — the Caribous have been very competitive in senior hockey virtually every season — there is no palpable buzz in the town this season. Maybe it’s the hangover from the Winter Games, a week-long event that consumed the down and drained the energy from volunteers, organizers and fans alike, but the passion doesn’t appear evident as of yet.

Maybe it will when the series moves to Clarenville next week. This week, Grand Falls-Windsor is the site of the opening two games. The Cataracts won the Herder in 2011, while the Caribous won in 2012, so this should be a great match-up.
In the central Newfoundland town, there is a palpable buzz in the air, as the hometown heroes look to chase their second Herder title. 

Hardly a murmur

The same can’t be said, it seems, for the rest of the province. The Herder Memorial Trophy is the biggest championship in Newfoundland and Labrador hockey, yet there’s hardly a murmur about it in sporting circles.

Certainly, there’s absolutely zero buzz about the series in and around St. John’s, where much of the population resides. Nobody on this side of the province is talking excitedly about this series. In fact, nobody has mentioned to me at all about the Herder. (That’s not surprising or unexpected, say some folks in Central.)

Several years ago, when Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador moved the Herder to the large rinks in St. John’s and Corner Brook, regardless of who was playing in the series, there was a ton of backlash from the local communities. These people supported the teams all year, yet when the biggest series arrived, these same fans had to travel hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to watch the team they watched all year.

The flip side for HNL was the huge success of using the larger venues. The money collected by HNL on ticket sales far surpassed anything that could have been made in Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium in Grand Falls-Windsor, the Clarenville Events Centre or S.W. Moores Stadium in Harbour Grace.

Building excitement

Fans of teams playing for the Herder did travel, did spend and did support their clubs in St. John’s and Corner Brook. It also created more media attention, more buzz and more excitement over the Herder finals.

'When the Herder first came to big buildings like Mile One, there was a huge hockey void and fans were starving for hockey. With that void filled, using the local arenas is the right decision.'

I’m not saying that the series should be at Mile One this year. Part of the success of the large venues in the past was the dearth of hockey in the capital city.

But with the birth of the IceCaps, hockey fans were getting their fill of the game. 

When the Herder first came to the big buildings, there was a huge hockey void all winter and fans were starving for hockey. Now with that void filled, using the local arenas is the right decision.

It will allow fans to continue with their support of the home team.

However, what HNL has picked up on the local scene — and I’m not convinced that pickup is huge, considering there doesn’t seem to be a lot of excitement yet — it has lost provincially.

One time, no matter who played in the Herder final, it was followed closely by people from all parts of the province. Now it seems when a team is eliminated, or a town doesn’t have a senior hockey team at all, the people of that area lose interest.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Strong teams on both sides

Having said all that, these two teams are the best in senior hockey, and have been for a few years. The series should be interesting, considering both teams have strong goaltending, great offences, deep rosters and solid defence. Picking a winner will not be easy.

The Caratacts have home ice and that could be huge, but the format could favour the Caribous if they pick up a win in Central this week.

If the series goes long and we are treated to entertaining games, then the excitement level will rise. Especially if fans take advantage of the games being streamed online here

If you’re a fan of the game at all, take the opportunity to check out some of the action. It should be exciting.

Follow Don Power on Twitter here.