Power: Hockey is a numbers sport, especially in small towns


Tommy Ricketts Arena holds the age well. The exterior has been well cared for, with what appears to be fresh aluminum signing plus relatively new signage.

Even with the unpaved parking lot — a staple in many small, rural cities — you don’t get the feeling you’re entering a decrepit structure.

Plus you’re not.

As soon as inside, the yellow walls, a cross between mustard and gold, and high ceiling lend themselves to some bright existence. The seats, hard wooden bleachers reminiscent of rinks from this era, are slotted on one side of the rink, with the players benches, penalty boxes and scorekeeper’s area all situated on the other side. (Think Feildian Gardens within St . John’s, although within much better condition! )

The 40-year-old hockey arena in this western Newfoundland town has seen the share of hockey during its lifetime. Sadly for that residents here, the halcyon days of hockey are past.

The town’s minor hockey association provides barely 100 kids this season, and generally has to vacation about 60 kilometres only to play a game outside their own association. (During a discussion last week, we discovered that Northeast Minor Hockey has more kids in atom than Baie Verte has in its entire organization. )

The atom team, which hosted the provincial tournament, had travelled every weekend since January, in search of competition for their team. Every weekend! Trainer Rob Robinson — himself with a strong hockey pedigree which includes time spent in the provincial senior league — says getting enough kids to glaciers a team in every department is a difficult task.

And when they do get sufficient to ice a team, the ability level from top to bottom is undoubtedly that it makes it almost impossible to train.

Some of Robinson’s players had outstanding capability, and dominated the video games they played in. Another players had less capability, and at times were a little over-matched.

Atom could be the only level where Baie Verte had the requisite number of kids to play as the Baie Verte Sabres. Sufficiently strong to form a team and compete on their own. At the bantam degree, Baie Verte and Green Bay South combined to try out and host a tournament. In midget and pee wee, Baie Verte joined with their nearest neighbour, La Scie, to enter a team.

Baie Verte is not alone in that dilemma. Springdale and La Scie combined in bantam; Fogo-Change Islands and Bay d’Espoir did the same. In midget, it was Harbour Breton joining with Bay d’Espoir. Gros Morne teamed up along with Deer Lake in an atom division.

These are the official merging of teams, and there are many more ‘unofficial’ mergers. Minor hockey associations all across the province are witnessing their numbers dwindle.

At a midget tournament in Bell Isle, Springdale had players through three or four different organizations and nevertheless didn’t have a full roster. Churchill Falls came in along with fewer than the limit. Even the championship-winning team from Gander — Gander! — only had 14 players, three below the maximum.

Granted, it was the second midget team out of that central town, but to not be able to fill rosters will be a major concern.

Almost everywhere you look, hockey, plus sports in general, in these rural towns is slowly perishing.

My atom team played a tournament in Placentia one weekend, and after our Saturday mid-day game ended at two p. m., the glaciers remained empty. A Placentia coach says ice time is easy to get, and the market is never booked to capacity.

Back again at Tommy Ricketts, we all learned that there is no minor hockey on Sunday in the creating. None! On a Sunday.

When I relayed that story to some minor hockey colleagues in the greater St . John’s area, they could only react with awe plus state the obvious difference. Round the capital city area, glaciers time is at a premium, and will still be even when the new Heaven and Conception Bay South arenas are built.

Associations like Northeast, Conceiving Bay Regional, Mount Gem and St . John’s are bursting at the seams, while other rural organizations are clamouring for kids.

There’s no simple answer. Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador went 48 provincial minor tournaments this spring. That’s a wide range of events, in a lot of cities, with a lot of kids experiencing hockey.

And when the goal of Hockey NL is to have kids enjoying by themselves, and it is, then if cities can join forces to get the kids a game of hockey, after that it’s a good thing.

But one thing is certain. The people of these small towns is not growing, and that means it will be more difficult each year to maintain these associations.

And the end result of that will be old rinks like Tommy Ricketts Arena sit nonproductive for longer periods of time.

Follow Don on Tweets @PowerPlay27.


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Tommy Ricketts Arena keeps its age well. The exterior has been well cared for, with what appears to be fresh aluminum putting your signature on and relatively new signage.

Even with the unpaved parking lot — a staple in many small, rural towns — you don’t get the feeling you’re entering a decrepit structure.

And you’re not.

Once inside, the yellow-colored walls, a cross among mustard and gold, plus high ceiling lend by themselves to a bright existence. The particular seats, hard wooden bleachers reminiscent of rinks from this period, are all slotted on one aspect of the rink, with the players benches, penalty boxes plus scorekeeper’s area all situated on the other side. (Think Feildian Landscapes in St . John’s, even though in much better condition! )

The 40-year-old hockey arena in this traditional western Newfoundland town has observed its share of hockey during its lifetime. Unfortunately for the residents here, the halcyon days of hockey are past.

The particular town’s minor hockey association has barely 100 kids this year, and generally has to travel about 60 kms just to play a game outdoors their own association. (During a conversation last week, we discovered that Northeast Minor Hockey has more kids in atom than Baie Verte has in its entire organization. )

The atom group, which hosted the provincial tournament, had travelled every weekend since January, in search of competition for their team. Every weekend! Coach Rob Robinson — himself with a strong hockey pedigree including time spent within the provincial senior league — says finding enough kids to ice a team in each division is a difficult task.

And when they do obtain enough to ice a squad, the ability level from top to bottom is such that it makes it extremely difficult to coach.

Some of Robinson’s players had outstanding ability, and dominated the games they played within. The other players had much less ability, and at times were a little over-matched.

Atom is the only level exactly where Baie Verte had the requisite number of kids to try out as the Baie Verte Sabres. Strong enough to form a team plus compete on their own. At the bantam level, Baie Verte plus Green Bay South mixed to play and host a tournament. In midget plus pee wee, Baie Verte joined with their nearest neighbour, La Scie, to get into a team.

Baie Verte is not alone in that dilemma. Springdale plus La Scie combined within bantam; Fogo-Change Islands plus Bay d’Espoir did exactly the same. In midget, it was Harbour Breton joining with Bay d’Espoir. Gros Morne collaborated with Deer Lake in an atom division.

These are the official merging of teams, and there are many more ‘unofficial’ mergers. Minor hockey associations all across the province are witnessing their amounts dwindle.

In a midget tournament in Bell Island, Springdale had players from three or four different organizations and still didn’t have a full roster. Churchill Falls arrived with fewer than the restrict. Even the championship-winning team through Gander — Gander! — only had fourteen players, three below the maximum.

Granted, it was the second midget team out of that central town, but to not be able to fill rosters is a huge concern.

Everywhere you look, hockey, and sports in general, during these rural towns is gradually dying.

Our atom team played a tournament in Placentia 1 weekend, and after our Sunday afternoon game ended at 2 p. m., the ice remained empty. A Placentia coach says glaciers time is easy to get, as well as the arena is never reserved to capacity.

Back at Tommy Ricketts, we learned that there is no small hockey on Sunday within the building. None! On a Sunday.

When I relayed that story to some small hockey colleagues in the greater St . John’s area, they could only react with awe and state the obvious distinction. Around the capital city area, ice time is at a premium, and will still be even when the newest Paradise and Conception Bay South arenas are built.

Associations like Northeast, Conception Bay Regional, Mount Pearl and St . John’s are bursting at the stitches, while other rural agencies are clamouring for kids.

There’s no simple solution. Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador ran 48 provincial small tournaments this spring. That’s a lot of events, in a wide range of towns, with a lot of kids enjoying hockey.

And if the goal of Hockey NL is to have kids experiencing themselves, and it is, then when towns can join forces to get the kids a game of hockey, then it’s a good thing.

But one thing is for certain. The population of these small cities isn’t growing, and that means it’s going to be more difficult each year to sustain these associations.

And the end result of that is old rinks such as Tommy Ricketts Arena sit down idle for longer periods of time.

Follow Don upon Twitter @PowerPlay27.