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Keating seeking transparency as verdict on future of Western Kings draws closer

Dennis GM Western Kings’ George Young, carries the puck into Central IcePak territory as IcePak’s Jacob Walsh defends during provincial major midget hockey league action at Lewisporte Stadium in this file photo from October 2016.
Dennis GM Western Kings’ George Young, carries the puck into Central IcePak territory as IcePak’s Jacob Walsh defends during provincial major midget hockey league action at Lewisporte Stadium in this file photo from October 2016.

A decision could be made today on the future of the Western Kings provincial major midget hockey team, but Bruce Keating doesn’t necessarily see that as a positive outcome.

Keating, the spokesperson for the Western Franchise Action Group, said a new three-person league executive committee would be elected during the Hockey NL’s annual general meeting that starts today in Gander. From there, as he understands it, that group will meet this afternoon to deal with a few league issues, including the current state of the Western franchise.

In April, the Kings franchise was awarded to the town of Deer Lake, but that decision was subsequently rescinded due to a conflict in the league’s constitution.

The action group was formed in May to represent parents, guardians and other interested parties in Western Newfoundland with respect to the awarding of the major midget franchise and to provide information and greater transparency so that parents and players can support the decision ultimately made.

“We know HNL is putting pressure on them to make a decision very quickly,” said Keating.

Keating believes it wouldn’t be unreasonable to give them three or four days, or even up to a week, if that’s what it takes to demonstrate they’ve done their due diligence and used a structured approach to evaluate the three remaining proposals for the franchise.

“Then you can explain the decision,” he said. “People may not agree with it, but at least you’ve got a rationale for doing it and you can explain why.”

The action group held an information session on Tuesday night in Corner Brook, during which it focused on the process the league and HNL went through in making the original decision and then rescinding it, and also to provide information based on the three remaining proposals. The group spent weeks gathering information and conducting structured interviews with the applicants, as well as looking at how other provinces’ major midget programs would go about their business.

After reviewing the three proposals, the group ranked them based on four major areas — the on-ice program itself, facilities, infrastructure and finances. The current franchise holder, The Western Kings 2014 Inc., had the highest-ranked bid at 96 out of 100. BradRil Investments Limited, also based in Corner Brook, scored an 89 out of 100. The Town of Deer Lake ranked third with a 71 out of 100.

Before the information session, the action group received a letter from the Town of Deer Lake threatening possible legal action if information provided in a May 18 meeting was disclosed during the session, so some information about Deer Lake’s proposal was redacted from the presentation. In a released statement on that subject, Keating said that didn’t make a lot of sense to the group, as the redacted information was “largely predictable and quite positive.”

The main differences between the proposals were in player travel, in which it was estimated would be 52-71 per cent greater with the team located in Deer Lake, numbers based on the hometowns of players on the team throughout the past three seasons. Experience, facilities, availability of officials, and proximity to the hospital were also highlighted.

Keating said the issue isn’t about pitting Corner Brook against Deer Lake — it’s simply about selecting the best proposal and having a clear explanation of why it’s the best.

“The issue we’re dealing with is the league executive and HNL, who in my view have run the process very poorly and created a lot of the issues that came up,” he said.

During the information-gathering period, he said, the group attempted to speak with HNL’s minor council on several occasions.

“All of our requests for interviews were either ignored or rejected,” he said. “It was basically, draw the curtains and not engage with the process.”

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