The sports pages of this newspaper were abuzz last week with talk of the Royals senior hockey squad returning to Corner Brook next season, which many may say is the team’s rightful home.
But the answer to the question, “Where will the Royals call home next season?” is not a simple one, and it’s certainly a different question than “where should the Royals play next season?”
Many from this area – some of whom are diehards who faithfully trekked from Corner Brook to Deer Lake all winter to watch the Royals play at the Hodder - have been clamoring for the team’s return to the city since the day they pulled up stakes and began playing 45 minutes up the road.
Many fans likely took for granted that the Western Royals would become the Corner Brook Royals again after the story broke a few weeks ago that a booster club of interested parties had organized with the aim of enticing the team back to the Pepsi Centre (or whatever the building will be called by the time the next hockey game is played there).
But now the Royals and three other teams from provincial league – the Clarenville Caribous, the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and the Gander Flyers – appear to be on the cusp of ratifying a new league for next season: the Central-West Senior Hockey League.
So now that the prospect of costly travel to the east coast to play teams in Mount Pearl and Conception Bay appears to be no longer a consideration, Royals team officials can focus on where they want to host their opponents this winter.
In the words of Deer Lake’s own recreation director, attendance at the Hodder was low last season, but by all accounts the numbers were down across the entire league. On the other hand, corporate sponsorships reportedly increased last year, and the team has been pleased with the number of volunteers willing to lend a hand.
Corner Brook, meanwhile, has perhaps the more accommodating facility (for which the city happens to be looking to land a major tenant) and is in a more central location for the Royals’ fan base, perhaps affording and opportunity for those living further west of the city - who may have shied away from the prospect of driving to Deer Lake over the past few years — to take in a few more games.
The team has been through this all before, and we can only think it must be a tough decision for the Royals’ ownership when the risk is leaving the impression that the team is abandoning a loyal fan base – no matter where they decide to defend their home ice.
In the end, the simplest solution to a difficult problem may be to split the difference: Play half, or even a quarter, of Royals home games in Deer Lake to maintain the fan base, and play the rest in Corner Brook.
It’s not an unheard of prospect in fledgling sports leagues like this one for some teams to split home games in towns that are relatively short distances apart. Fans would have ample chances to take in some games while the team builds some community goodwill in the process.
There has been some renewed nostalgia as of late about the legendary hockey rivalry between the Corner Brook Royals and the Deer Lake Red Wings and the grudge matches that came with it.
Wouldn’t it be an interesting experiment if, instead of a hockey war between Corner Brook and Deer Lake, we could see some hockey unity instead?