St. Stephen could have new Junior A hockey team by 2020
After losing St. Stephen Aces, group determined to get a new team by next season
A group of people in St. Stephen is working to bring back a Junior A hockey team to the town, which lost its team last season.
"Clearly, it's something that's missing in the community, and I think people are well behind us," said Doug Holland, the group's organizer and one of the creators of the Saint John Sea Dogs hockey team.
The community of about 4,500 lost its only team, the St. Stephen Aces of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League, when it relocated to Fredericton for the 2019-20 season. The team folded after running a deficit since its establishment in 2014.
Holland, who's played hockey all his life, said the proposed budget to run a "top-notch" team is $500,000.
But the group isn't looking to investors. Instead, it wants to create a community-based team.
"We're looking to the town of St. Stephen and to the public to support it," Holland said. "Something that would sustain itself long-term and will be there forever."
A few weeks ago, the group hosted a rally to discuss whether the community wanted a new team.
"I've never seen any group of people so intent, you know. Basically you could hear a pin drop when anybody was speaking," he said.
At least 400 people attended the rally and 155 people signed up for season tickets, which exceeded the group's expectations.
Holland said the people who signed up gave a $25 deposit, which will go toward the price of the tickets if a team is established. If not, the deposits will be refunded.
The group also received support from community businesses, new volunteers and even St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern. He said the town lost a sport that drew people into the community.
"You're talking 26-plus events of 700 to 800 people … that's hard to replace," MacEachern said.
He said when the team left, the town also lost valuable members of the community.
"That activity is this thing that people don't realize the value of," he said. "And you're talking 25 [players] that support the schools, and the kids have something to look up to."
Holland said the group has met with the Maritime Junior Hockey League and is meeting with town council to present the group's proposal Wednesday night.
He said he's unsure if an entirely new team will be established or if an existing team will be relocated, but he's optimistic the group will have a team ready for the 2020 fall season.
"If we have good luck in the next couple of weeks, we could have some positive comments doing it," he said.
If the group is successful, Holland expects a contest to be held to determine the new name of the team.
"I would love personally, if we're successful, to do some research on the history of things," he said.
"My understanding is the river was a hotbed of activity at one point in time, and I'm sure there's a moniker that fits within the history."
With files from Information Morning Saint John