by Tristan Turner
Morinville hockey fans may have a new team to cheer for in the coming years if council decides to give the nod to a new junior A hockey team as part of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL).
This opportunity was brought to council’s attention by Derek Prue of the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA), who shared a presentation with Council at their Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting about the new division and its vision for Morinville Junior A hockey.
Prue explained that the WSHL is a well-established league that has been operating in the US since 1993, and has grown to 23 teams across 14 states, and that the growing league is looking to open a new Canadian division (the WPHA) with Morinville as one of “the core founding teams.” This inaugural slate would begin towards the end of 2018 for the 18’-19’ hockey season and will comprise of 6-8 teams across BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
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.
Council had several questions and concerns for Prue, including Councillor Sarah Hall who was worried about how the new arena site could accommodate the team, including wondering if there would be private dressing room space available for the team, and the challenge of scheduling ice time.
Prue said that the league would be willing to work something out with town administration, including the possibility “[putting] the change room in a shipping container… as long as the team has their space.” Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations, David Schaefer, said that there does exist a private change room in the current arena plans, and that administration would be able to work out an arrangement with the team for ice time that would still allow the other teams and schools access.
Mayor Turner asked Prue how committed the league was to have Morinville in their slate, and if there is a chance that Morinville may be passed up for a team even if council approves the plan. Prue responded saying, “We are 100 per cent committed to Morinville… we will be moving ahead with Morinville as one of our founding teams, with your approval.”
Councillor Richardson wondered how the team ownership and financials would look, with Prue candidly explaining that the league would take on any team expenses if they could not find a local owner, but they would prefer that someone from the community take on ownership of the team. The annual team budget is typically around $300,000 a year.
As the meeting was Committee of the Whole, no decision could be made that evening on the new team, though it will likely come forward for discussion at a future council meeting.