For the executive, fans, and sponsors of the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, and the other teams in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NLSHL), the fight is over.
On Thursday, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) released the news many have been waiting for since last season – the competing teams for the Herder Memorial Championship would be granted the option to choose where their home games are played.
“Since all teams requested the right to choose where they play home games in the Herder, the Senior Council Executive for HNL will make changes in the Herder set-up for next year,” read the announcement. It went on to say the changes will be finalized during the provincial fall meetings in September.
It’s not a victory that went without months of effort from the Cataracts executive. Former Director of Hockey Operations Barry Manuel spearheaded a hard fought initiative to get last year’s decision that all Herder games be played in the province’s two largest stadiums overturned.
Months of controversy over the decision ensued, fans and sponsors were outraged, and the issue even led to the resignation of two HNL officials. The tension was capped off at the Herder playoffs between the Clarenville Caribous and the Cataracts with low fan turnouts at many of the games at Corner Brook’s Pepsi Centre, in particular, where the Cats played their home games.
“We pushed for it, it was a difficult year for a lot of the guys who were front and centre on this, it was a daily grind all throughout the winter and spring,” said George Scott, the recently appointed communications director for the Cataracts. “It took it’s toll on some of the guys, we’re just glad it’s over so we can move forward and put it behind us.”
HNL’s change of heart came after the NLSHL came together at a league meeting earlier this spring; according to Scott, all five teams unanimously agreed to request the right to choose where Herder home games were played.
When the league made its presentation to HNL at it’s spring meeting, it formally made the request.
HNL’s Senior Council, the body responsible for senior hockey in the province, met a few weeks later and approved the request.
“We’re really happy about the decision for a number of reasons,” said Scott. “It’s good for the fans, it’s good for the sponsors, it’s good for all the other reasons we spoke about last season. But one big thing is, it allows us to move forward, without this decision, I don’t know where the organization would stand.”
Scott explained that the Cataracts executive knew if the Herder model didn’t change they would have a difficult time getting sponsors, and they would lose out on much of their holding seat revenue.
“There was a number of people on the executive who didn’t want to go back into another year not being able to play at home,” said Scott. “There’s been a weight lifted from everyone’s shoulders.”
Answers and questions
The announcement sent out by HNL last week outlined more than just the decision on Herder venues – it announced the reclassification of Newfoundland and Labrador’s other senior league. The Avalon East Senior Hockley League (AESHL) moved from the B division up to A.
Because the Herder is ranked as an A tournament, this means both leagues will have the opportunity to compete for the coveted trophy.
“We are all definitely okay with that,” said Scott. “It makes the Herder more meaningful because everyone is going to have a legitimate crack at it and no one is left out because of their rank. If you can win, you have the chance to take the trophy home, and that’s the way it should be.”
The release also officially announced the introduction of the NLSHL’s newest team, the Gander Flyers, into the league.
The Flyers executive had taken a firm stance earlier this year on the Herder venue situation; they wanted to play in the league but would only if they had the opportunity to play for the Herder at home if they’re able make it to the finals.
Now that team has been approved by HNL, approved by the NLSHL, and their one stipulation has been met, they are ready to kick off their season in the fall.
“Having Gander in the league is a huge advantage for everybody,” said Scott. “It cuts down on travel costs for teams on this part of the island, and bringing a sixth team in allows us to have a more balanced schedule.”
There will also be an entry-level draft system coming to the NLSHL next season, according to the release. Though no other details were available, the announcement said it’s to ensure greater parity among the teams.
While the slew of announcements released by HNL on Friday clarified many issues about the upcoming season, it still left some unanswered questions.
One of HNL’s reasons for last fall’s initial decision to have the Herder played in larger venues was to implement a new revenue sharing program. With bigger stadiums, more ticket sales were predicted, and the plan was to share the extra revenue between all five teams in the league. But Scott said that money, if there is any, has yet to be seen by the teams.
“HNL hasn’t come up with any figures on what money was spent, and what came in, so we’re still waiting on that,” said Scott.
He also said the details on how the new Herder model will work next year with the AESHL included in the running still have to be finalized.
The Advertiser tried to reach HNL for comments, but as of press time no representatives were available.
“We’re just delighted HNL made this decision,” said Scott. “We can now really go forward and start working on getting this up and running for the upcoming season.”