Other than scheduled road trips, the Trail Smoke Eaters BCHL hockey team won’t be going anywhere soon, however, a sale is imminent.
Amid rumours and concerns about the exit of the team and the iconic Smoke Eater logo, the Trail Smoke Eaters directors will hold an information session on Tuesday at the Trail Memorial Centre to clear up any questions regarding the sale of the BCHL franchise.
“We called the information meeting because of a lot of rumours around town, and we want to make sure everyone knows where we’re coming from,” said Smoke Eater president Tom Gawryletz.
“I can tell you that what we’re looking at right now is a partnership between the Smoke Eater Society, that runs the hockey club, and someone from outside the area. It’s not local like some people think. We tried locally but we just couldn’t muster it up.”
Talks with an interested investor have been ongoing for a couple of months, but until the Smoke Eaters can finalize an agreement the potential buyer will remain anonymous.
“We don’t have anything on paper at the moment. We’re discussing things and we actually have lawyers involved … and they’re the ones doing the negotiations right now.”
The Smoke Eaters have been a community-run team since its entry into the BCHL in 1995, and based on discussions, the Trail Smoke Eater Society will retain limited ownership.
“We’ve negotiated a price with him,” said Gawryletz. “The Society is going to hang on to 10 per cent of the ownership, and we’re still going to operate pretty well the way we are. What he is going to be is a big financial help more than anything.”
The potential buyer contacted the Smoke Eaters through the BCHL head office with an interest to buy a junior hockey team. According to Gawryletz, he had looked at a number of teams with a for sale sign in the North American Hockey League and BCHL before contacting the Smoke Eaters.
A big question mark in the sale revolved around the rights to the Smoke Eater name and logo, which are owned by the City of Trail. Trail Corporate Administrative Officer David Perehudoff says the city has been discussing a variety of issues with the buyer, with its main caveat that the team remain in Trail.
“As far as the trademark goes, the city will provide consent for use should the sale close,” confirmed Perehudoff. “This will encompass certain conditions with the primary restriction associated with the hockey club continuing to operate in Trail.”
The Smoke Eaters have struggled on the ice and at the gate, and haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. Despite the best efforts of volunteers, staff, players, and executive, the team’s financial future has been uncertain, and the ability to ice an elite product increasingly difficult.
“I think it’s going to be a benefit for all of us,” said Gawryletz. “I know the Society has owned the club for years, but if you look at the financial statement every year it’s not hard to figure out that sooner or later time is going to catch up on us.”
Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith says the deal is a very positive move for the Smoke Eaters.
“It’s really exciting. Once it all gets into place it will be an energizer for the team and the city as well.”
The potential buyer has already met with the league office and commissioner, John Grisdale, and has gone through league protocol regarding the sale of the team. While the deal is not finalized, the Smoke Eaters are hopeful that it will be done soon.
“I’m hoping by Tuesday that we’re going to have some more answers (at the information session), and hoping we may be able to release the name of the party that’s interested and say what’s going on,” said Gawryletz.
“I really believe in the next week to 10 days we’ll have something on paper.”
The Smoke Eaters information meeting goes at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Red Room of the Trail Memorial Centre. The public is invited to attend.