District of Kitimat council was split over the approval of a new unsanctioned Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL) Jr. A team for Kitimat.
Although the council approved the possibility of a new team, votes were split between the council as Kitimat already has the sanctioned Central Interior Hockey League’s ‘AA’ Kitimat Ice Demons.
As the new league has the potential of bringing in more traffic and economic revenue, Mayor Phil Germuth, Councillor Edwin Epinado, Councillor Lani Gibson and Councillor Mark Zelinski voted in favour of the GMHL coming to Kitimat, thinking a new team is a good idea for the community.
However, Councillor Terry Marleau, Councillor Rob Goffinet and Councillor Mario Feldhoff voted against the GMHL coming to Kitimat as the new team potentially creates a direct conflict with hockey organizations that are already established within the community.
Many concerns were raised, but Coun. Marleau emphasized that unsanctioned leagues don’t have the same control and player monitoring as the sanctioned leagues, and bringing in a new league to Kitimat can create altercations with any sanctioned organizations in town.
“I talked to BC Hockey and had a long discussion with them and one thing about sanctioning they brought up is, the long term athletic development model which is used by sanctioned organizations across Canada allow for some control, monitoring, and putting forth a model regarding practice and development, which allows for a measure of a modicum of control for these high-performance athletes, but it also makes sure things are monitored and practice plans are in place that is good for those athletes,” Marleau said.
“The other issue about not being sanctioned, for officials, is that sanctioning is pretty critical and if you referee an unsanctioned event there’s a possibility that you won’t be considered to actually referee on sanctioned events, such as rep hockey at the minor hockey level, games, and playoffs. […] It creates a real conundrum, there will be some conflict.”
During the annual ice users meeting, district staff raised concerns regarding the scheduling of weekend tournaments and how the GMHL season may affect these other events. Staff was also concerned about the impact that the CIHL and the Senior ‘AA’ Ice Demons will face when trying to attract a sustainable crowd.
Members of the Ice Demons brought up similar concerns with reports of a player taking a year off from playing in an unsanctioned league after he was injured. The player did not get his money back as unsanctioned leagues are strictly for-profit enterprises that don’t refund players.
The leisure services department believes that issues raised by the Senior AA team are similar situations that could happen within sanctioned leagues.
The Ice Demons were also concerned about how a new team will affect their ticket sales as their spectator numbers have lowered over the years.
“There’s a limit in terms of our fan base and it’ll arguably be scraped thin with the Ice Demons, and although the potential exists for good things to come for the introduction of this league and just fearful that the community is not a sufficient size to accommodate and additional team,” Coun. Feldhoff said.
However, not all of the councillors shared the concern of Kitimat’s ability to host another team.
“Were down in user group numbers, the fanbase is already down, and our population is down. Plus, we’ve had way heavier user groups in this community operating senior leagues and junior leagues; we’ve had the Merchants, the Kitimat Cohos, the Winterhawks, we’ve had six commercial teams running and six fun league teams running. Basically, way more user groups than we have now,” Coun. Zelinski said.
The leisure service department is looking into ways of supporting both teams and has proposed that if an unsanctioned team comes to Kitimat they’ll try and get both games on the same day so supporters only have to buy one ticket instead of two, giving fans the option to watch both games.
Coun. Goffinet suggested that the GMHL work with teams in Kitimat to make sure they’re not affected by the new team coming into town as he was worried about safeguarding the well-established hockey organizations already in Kitimat.
In order for the GMHL to expand, it would need three to four new teams to join a western division for a total of seven to eight teams.
Both Quesnel and Williams Lake are considering the option of hosting a team from the GMHL, but if those communities in the northwest region are unable to find a way to work together in an effort to promote a consistent fanbase, the expansion will not take place.
The league has primarily had teams in the Greater Toronto Area, Central Ontario, Northeastern Ontario, and Quebec, and usually recruit players mainly from Europe so they can develop their hockey skills.