Junior A hockey returns to Fredericton — and St. Stephen mourns loss of team
St. Stephen Aces to relocate and become the revived Fredericton Red Wings
Junior A hockey will return to Fredericton for the first time in almost 40 years, but the move leaves fans in another New Brunswick town out in the cold.
The St. Stephen Aces of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League will relocate to the capital city in time for the 2019-20 season.
The team will be renamed the Fredericton Red Wings, a call back to another Junior A team of the same name that played in the city in the late 1970s and '80s.
That team folded after the Fredericton Express, an American Hockey League team, began playing in the city in 1981. The Express relocated in 1988.
The ownership group for the Red Wings includes Roger Shannon, who has served as the general manager for UNB Reds hockey for 19 seasons and has worked in various roles with Quebec Major Junior Hockey League teams.
Shannon, who be team president, said the city will become the league's largest market, something he hopes will attract players.
"What Fredericton offers is, it has a lot of resources," said Shannon.
"It has a lot of resources for kids who want to come and play here and live here because there's a lot to do. There's universities to go to, there's schools to go to, there's things to do when you're not playing."
In a statement on the league's website, MHL chairman Dave Ritcey said the league is excited to move to Fredericton but the decision to move wasn't made lightly.
"The decision to relocate a franchise is never easy, but there's excitement about entering the Fredericton market," said Ritcey.
St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern the town had a plan to keep the team in St. Stephen but was not given an opportunity to present it.
"From the time rumours began to circulate, the town CAO and I had been working with locally interested parties to find a solution that would see the team remain in our community," MacEachern said.
"I am exceptionally disappointed that we never got the chance to discuss our proposal with the Aces decision-makers."
The Aces have played in the town since 2014.
Shannon said he understands the frustration of having a team leave a market — he remembers when the Red Wings left Fredericton in the 1980s — but the team had to think of the finances of the franchise.
"For us, we have to look at it from the other side of the equation and that is more the business side of it," said Shannon.
"If I was to be magnanimous and say 'Well, I don't want to start a hockey team in Fredericton because that means some other town may not have a hockey team' then I would never start a hockey team."
Other teams with the Red Wings name operated in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
The Red Wings won the New Brunswick Minor Hockey League title in 1980, when they were coached by former NHL player Frederick (Buster) Harvey.
Shannon said the team will celebrate the history of hockey in the city and hopes to include players from the old teams in game day events.
"We will be playing tribute throughout the winter to … a lot of local legends when it comes to the Red Wings and sport," said Shannon.
"We got a lot of exciting things planned."
The new team will play at the Grant-Harvey Centre, partially named after the coach of the earlier Red Wings.