Ross Coates felt it was time to give up on a failed experiment, but hopes to bring some flavour back to senior hockey in the province.
Coates confirmed Monday that the Western Royals have indicated to Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador the franchise is no longer interested in any concept of a provincial senior hockey league this year.
An email sent out Sunday by provincial league president Neil Norcott indicated that the Royals and three other teams — the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, Gander Flyers and Clarenville Caribous — have pulled out of the six-team Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League.
“We tried it for the last three years. It’s been a failed experiment,” Coates said bluntly Monday when asked why he decided to opt out.
“We thought our fan base would grow with a provincial league, but as a matter of fact it has actually shrunk.”
That leaves the Eastlink CeeBee Stars of Harbour Grace and the Mount Pearl Blades in a bit of a pickle with the impending collapse of the provincial setup.
“A couple of teams may not be happy, but we got to do what we got to do,” said Coates. “It’s just too expensive to travel to the east coast time and time again. We got to go back to a better economic structure for us.”
Coates, who is the team’s president, said the decision to pull out of the provincial league was based on his talks with officials of the other teams who opted to pull the plug.
The plan is to have four teams operate in a west coast hockey league — similiar to the old West Coast Senior Hockey League — said Coates, adding the change will enable all teams an opportunity to cut down on travel costs, which has been the biggest challenges for the franchises.
A west league is something he believes will inject some life into a league that has watched attendance spiral at most venues, but especially in Deer Lake where the Royals called the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex home for the past two seasons.
Coates believes a better schedule will help renew interest in senior hockey.
He remembers how attendance was always great when the team played in the West Coast Senior Hockey League, and he hopes that will be the case again this year with its return.
“When we had a west league, we had hockey at home every second weekend and we built up some good rivalries with the teams we had,” he said, noting it’s hard for fans to follow a team when they spend sometimes as many as three-straight weeks on the road in the provincial setup.
He hopes the two teams currently on the outskirts — both the CeeBee Stars and Blades — find their way back to a senior hockey league on the east to set the stage for an east vs. west Herder final like it was before teams took a shot at playing in a provincial league three seasons ago.
“We found the flavour is kind of gone out of it,” he said of the provincial concept.
“You have to go back to what did work. We had a system in the west league that was working for many years. We had some good rivalries and we had some good Herder finals at the end.”