CORNER BROOK Darren Colbourne believes a declining interest in hockey itself has a lot to do with Ross Coates deciding to find a new home base for his senior hockey franchise.
Coates, who took over the Corner Brook Royals two years ago with hopes of renewing interest in senior hockey in the city, created a buzz in senior hockey circles last week when he announced he was changing the name of the team to the Western Royals and bringing his business to the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex for the 2012-2013 Newfoundland Senior Hockey League season.
Colbourne, a former player and coach with the Royals, said attendance at games has dwindled over the past couple of seasons and it always comes down to money when it comes to keeping a team afloat during struggling times. He said Corner Brook's population has gone down big-time from what it used to be and it's an aging community so it all plays a factor in the longevity of the product.
"Are people willing to pay money to go over there every weekend? No. There's other things going on and let's be honest there's other things to spend your money on and not everybody loves hockey," Colbourne said Tuesday.
He doesn't blame Ross Coates for moving the team because he understands that it was purely a business decision. He's also not sure if it would have been any different if it was a community-based team like others in the league rather than the team being run by a local businessman.
"He tried to keep it above ground for as long as he could and that's all you can do," Colbourne said. "It's a sad day obviously because this goes back to 1935 for crying out loud, but in the end you can't just sit there and lose money year after year."
Ed Kearsey, a Corner Brook native who now lives in Deer Lake, is a former player and coach with the team. He was actually let go of his coaching duties with the Royals at one point and ended up coaching rival Deer Lake Red Wings for a couple of seasons afterwards. He was a franchise player for the Royals back in the glory days of the 1980s when the late Cliff Gorman was at the helm of the Corner Brook Hockey Association and the team was ran by a group of dedicated volunteers who had the full support of the fans and local business community.
"I'm surprised and I will just say that Cliff Gorman must be rolling over in his grave right now," Kearsey said. "I'm sure Cliff never ever thought he was going to see the Corner Brook Royals move out of the city because they couldn't make it viable playing out of a rink in Corner Brook period."
Kearsey believes the team will still have a loyal fan base with support from both communities if they put a quality product on the ice. He said the Royals were only one player away from being in the mix last year, but he still feels the fans expect a winning hockey team so management better be up to the challenge.
"Ross Coates better do some homework," he said. "It's up to him and his crew to get a winning team and start scouting some players."
Todd Stark was a star forward the Royals signed to an import card back in the early 1980s who ended up staying in the province. He is raising his family here and operates a business in Deer Lake.
Stark played in the league when there were more teams from the west coast than the east coast with Stephenville and Port aux Basques icing competitive teams so he never envisioned the day where there would be only one team operating in the west and the rest of the franchises on the other end of the island.
"It's unfortunate that there is only one team representing the west at this point. It would be nice to see at least the two franchises still operating," Stark said. "That rivalry that Deer Lake and Corner Brook established when the senior hockey started its revival ... that was an intense rivalry and it generated a lot of buzz, and I think that was kind of the seed that grew to establish the league the way it is now."
Without a having a close neighbour, Stark feels it's just not the same, but he was quick to point out that there is a lot of people excited about the return of hockey to the Hodder.
"They're looking forward to getting a team back and the fact that they haven't had a team for a couple of years I'm sure there will be a lot of interest and support," he said.
As for the fans in Corner Brook, Stark is thinking it must have been a devastating blow when the news broke.
"If you had told me when I was playing down in Corner Brook 25 years ago that the only west coast team would be in Deer Lake I probably wouldn't have believed it," he said. "Obviously, you're going to have people in Deer Lake happy and people in Corner Brook disappointed," he added. "It's too bad we couldn't keep them all happy and have a couple of teams."