by Tristan Turner
After a unanimous vote from council, Morinville will not move ahead with establishing a new Junior A hockey team ahead of the opening of the Town’s new arena. The vote came to council at their regular council meeting on Mar. 27th, and followed a presentation form Derek Prue of the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA) at their last Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, a new league that had Morinville in its sights as one of its founding teams in Alberta.
At that meeting, Prue had argued for the team citing what an “incredible opportunity” it was. In Prue’s argument, he noted that this team would be a serious commitment for players, with many WSHL players coming to play from all over the world, with over 300 European players. Playing the sport becomes a “full-time gig” for players, according to Prue, with many opportunities for advancement into professional leagues (like the NHL) and post-secondary sports teams. Prue noted that there are many advantages for a town to have a Junior A team in town, including millions in tourism, international recognition, and the opportunity for minor hockey teams to partner in training with the league.
But council was not convinced, citing concerns both at COW and council about the availability of ice time, funding questions and a lack of space for the team since the new team would hit the ice in the 2018 season, well ahead of the construction of Morinville’s new arena. Referencing this challenge, Councillor Hall said this was “the right opportunity at the wrong time”, saying that she would be open to a team in the future.
Councillor Balanko brought up a concern at council about the availability of resources for the team saying “all of them [Morinville’s sports teams] end up going to the same resources [sponsors/donors] over and over and over again” worrying that sponsorship for the new team could drown out support for Morinville’s existing teams, and even the Town’s potential sponsorship of the Arena.
Mayor Turner echoed these concerns, saying that council had to be sensitive to the “political implications” of the decisions and that “[approving the team] could have a negative reaction from our other hockey teams.
Councillor Giffin was worried that “there just seems to be so many unanswered questions [on the team]” and noted he could not support the project without more information.
Morinville’ outgoing CAO Andrew Isbister agreed with council’s assessment, and recommended that the team didn’t go forward, saying: “If it were me making the decision, I would vote to not go forward with the project… There are a lot of uncertainty with the league and with the impact of this decision [on Morinville].” And added that with council’s vote, he will take that as direction to go to the WPHA and say “no thanks for now, but come back to us again in a year [with a proposal].”
Deputy Mayor Dafoe made the motion to put the team in place but immediately clarified he was only doing so because procedurally council cannot make a negative motion, and that he opposed his own motion. Dafoe made it clear that he was not opposed to the idea outright, just that he felt it was not the right time. Dafoe said: “I’m not opposed to having a Junior A team, I think that would be fantastic, but when we’ve heard that we haven’t had the conversation with our existing teams, when we are uncertain about the amount of ice time we have available going into a new facility… Great idea, great initiative, but I think it’s too soon.”