STEPHENVILLE When Ron Dobbin first threw his hat into the provincial junior hockey circuit eight years ago, his intentions were admirable.
The results, not so much.
For the first few years, the Dobbin-led teams, originally playing out of Deer Lake, were habitually pummelled on the scoreboard and embarrassed on the ice. It wasn’t necessarily Dobbin’s fault, his main goal was to help a bunch of kids find a place to play hockey. He just didn’t have the firepower to compete against the other squads in the original version of what’s now known as the Central/West Junior Hockey League.
Slowly, but surely, that began to change, starting with his decision to move the team to Stephenville and revive the Jets name for the junior-aged team.
Last year, they were truly competitive, a threat to win any game they skated in.
After Hockey NL awarded the 2013 Veitch Memorial Provincial Junior Championship tournament to Stephenville last weekend, Dobbin’s efforts have been rewarded.
“It’s perfect timing,” he said. “This is our fourth year in Stephenville and in that time we’ve built a really good base of organization, we’ve got some really good people involved and the kids are responding too.”
Dobbin originally mentioned his desire to host the tournament, which shifts back and forth between east and west annually, and got no resistance from any of the other clubs. It wasn’t made official, however, until the provincial hockey association’s fall meetings in Grand Falls-Windsor last weekend.
Suddenly, the Stephenville Junior Jets are the team to be. Hosting the event guarantees a spot in the three-team field, which will also consist of the St. John’s Junior Hockey League champion and the Central West league champion, or the runner-up, in the instance the Jets actually win their league title.
“Just the fact we’re hosting the championships, we’ve got kids now coming to us,” Dobbin said.
“It’s not the reason we did it, but like any team that hosts, we attract kids that are maybe in their last year and want to have a good shot and end it in a good manner.
“It’s a positive, there’s no question.”
Playing against east coast opposition hasn’t always been fun for the clubs of the Central West league.
Last year the league champion Humber Valley Red Wings were humbled in St. John’s, the year prior the host Port aux Basques Junior Mariners couldn’t hang either, although the Central Junior Cataracts did the league proud by providing the eastern champion with stiff competition, losing 2-1 in the championship game.
“It’s a challenge,” Dobbin admitted.
“But I do know what the east coast teams have seen in the last three or four years, it’s getting closer.”
One bonus in playing the games in the west, according to Dobbin, is the fan factor.
“In St. John’s last year they had 80 people for the championship, even in our first year (in Stephenville) struggling to put a team together, we were getting 250-300 people,” he said.
“I think they realized in Port aux Basques two years ago, with 700 people there, the west coast is definitely the junior hockey area.”
Providing the loyal group of hockey aficionados who regularly attend Junior Jets games the opportunity to watch the best junior-aged players on the island is another aspect of hosting which Dobbin is eagerly anticipating.
“They enjoy their hockey,” he said. “They love it.”
Efforts are already underway to build the Junior Jets for the upcoming season.
Already acting as general manager, Dobbin will step back behind the bench for the first time in two years, as previous coach Darren Roberts had other obligations this season.
Dobbin will run the team’s try-out weekend on Oct. 12-13 and will have the team picked before the target season opening date of Oct. 20.
Dobbin said he already has 25 kids ready to go, including a handful of first-year players looking to get their skates wet in the league this year.
There will be a strong core of returning players as well, with only six from last year’s group out of the equation.
“We had 14 first-year players last year,” said Dobbin. “Now they have a year under their belt, so it should be good to see.”