Sunday, April 05, 2015
OHL Hockey: Can Peterborough Afford it?
Peterborough Petes goalie Matthew Mancina is consoled by Oshawa Generals goalie Ken Appleby during third period OHL Eastern Conference Quarter-Final Game 5 action at the General Motors Centre on Friday, April 3, 2015. The Petes lost 3-2 and the series 4 games to 1. Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency
Gord Simmonds, who bought the Belleville Bulls OHL hockey team from the original owner, Dr. Robert Vaughan in 2004, sold the team last month to Michael Andlauer, who immediately announced the Bulls would play in Hamilton next season.
If council doesn't believe in a possible similar fate for the Petes they better have a look at the history. In the last number of years Cornwall, Brampton, Niagara Falls, Brantford, Newmarket, Toronto (the Marlies and St. Mike's) and now Belleville have lost OHL teams. North Bay, Guelph, Kitchener, Windsor, Oshawa, St. Catharines, Mississauga and now Hamilton lost junior teams earlier only to return. This is the fourth rebirth of a Hamilton team.
Belleville has been and still is a great hockey town and closely linked to Peterborough.
When the Belleville McFarlanes, Canada's representative at the 1959 World Championships, won the gold medal, with Peterborough lacrosse star, Ike Hildebrand as their playing coach, Peterborough sports fans revelled with the rest of Canada.
The Bulls joined the OHL in 1981 and became an instant rival with the Petes. Who could forget those fierce battles between the Bulls' Bryan Marchment and Troy Crowder with the Petes Dallas Eakins and Tie Domi in the late 1980s? Over the years the Bulls have groomed some top NHL players including Al Iafrate, Marty McSorley, Daniel Cleary, Darren McCarty and PK Subban, to name a few.
For many years Belleville was the smallest city in the OHL with the biggest ice surface. When the rink was opened in 1978, with Olympic sized ice (100 by 200 feet), plans were for Belleville to become Eastern Canada's hub for Canada's international teams.Those plans never materialized and when the Bulls entered the OHL they were saddled with a poorly designed rink for junior hockey. With the Yardmen Arena as home, drafting players to play half their games on the Olympic rink and the other half on NHL sized surfaces became a major challenge.
The 3,257-seat structure has the majority of the seating on the sides. The configuration made adding more seating and suites difficult. Belleville city council ignored regular appeals from Bulls fans and their team for a better facility until it was too late.
Major junior hockey in Ontario is now big business. Team values are estimated to range from $5 million up to $15 million plus. OHL teams have become integral parts of community life, especially for the smaller OHL cities like Peterborough. They bring in more revenue to their communities than many businesses. Their charitable work is second to none.
That being the case, the host cities have obligations to the team. They must provide and maintain a venue that allows the team to compete and make their patrons comfortable. It seems council thinks little of updating their chambers, the library, museum and art gallery for the comparatively few citizens' who benefit and then expect the hundreds of thousands of Petes and Lakers fans as well as the show-goers to be content with an outdated and deteriorating building.
The Memorial Centre, opened in 1956 and renovated in 2003, is the OHL's fourth oldest arena, behind Sudbury (1951, also after a new rink), Kitchener (1951 and expanded three times since) and North Bay (1955, renovated in 2014). If the city's abysmal record at planning, building and maintaining arenas continues, and their uneven, frequently onerous rental agreements with user groups are maintained, a Belleville scenario is closer than we think.
Don Barrie is a retired teacher, former Buffalo Sabres scout and a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Peterborough and District Sports Hall of Fame. His column appears each Saturday in The Examiner.
Note: There are several meaningful comments related to this article on the Examiner's web site. The article raises all of the issues affecting an OHL franchise in the city.