Smoke Eaters AGM: Smokies take financial hit

The Trail Smoke Eaters held its annual general meeting at the Trail Memorial Centre Tuesday.

The Trail Smoke Eaters held its annual general meeting at the Trail Memorial Centre Tuesday, and the news from the board went from bad to worse for Smokies supporters.

Team president Tom Gawryletz announced the Smoke Eater organization lost over $60,000 last season.

That’s almost $25,000 more than the previous year, and over $80,000 difference than in 2011, the last year the team made the playoffs and a profit.

“I don’t need to tell you that this hockey club can’t continue this way,” said Gawryletz. “We don’t have a golden goose to pay the bills all the time . . . If we can’t get it from the community and we can’t get it from our corporate sponsors, there is going to be some hard decisions made in a year or two if this continues.”

According to the Smoke Eaters’ Statement of Revenue and Expenditure, despite a much better effort on the ice in 2012-13, the Smokies were still down at the box office by about $5,000, and almost $60,000 from two years previous. Yet, the worst hit came from season-ticket sales that dropped more than $15,000 from last season, while corporate sponsorships were down $13,000, and over $40,000 from two years ago, as well as a $16,000 shortfall in fundraising.

Part of the fundraising loss can be attributed to the Smokies cancelling last season’s golf fundraiser, however, the team has put it back on the docket, with plans to resurrect it this year for July 5-6.

Expenditures were basically the same as the previous year, but after last year’s almost $36,000 loss, the team made $25,000 less this year, plunging the team further into the red.

It’s no secret that to turn a profit, the Smoke Eaters must make the playoffs and despite a valiant effort down the stretch, the team came up just short of a playoff berth in the end.

“There’s no ifs, ands, or buts; people only come to the rink when you win, you can say whatever you want about being a loser, the only losers that fill the rink are Maple Leaf fans,” said Gawryletz.

The news got worse as the team announced it was also losing one of its biggest supporters and contributors to the board in Scott McKinnon, as well as play-by-play announcer and marketing director Chris Wahl.

Wahl is pursuing an opportunity with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, where he will broadcast all 58 games on the radio, said Gawryletz, adding that the board hasn’t yet had the opportunity to consider a replacement.

McKinnon meanwhile was the billet coordinator and did everything from fundraising to selling programs and 50/50 tickets. His seven years on the board came to an end Tuesday when he decided due to health and family priorities it was time to step down.

“Sometimes it’s good to have renewal,” said McKinnon. “I’ve been on the board seven years, and nine years doing 50/50. It is challenging, but I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot about running a hockey team . . . I am going to miss it.”

Despite the loss of two vital cogs in the Smokie wheel and sobering financial news, coach Bill Birks remained positive about the team’s 25-point improvement from the previous year, and the addition of Barry Zanier and Craig Clare as full -time assistant coaches.

While Zanier has been involved with the team for 11 years, Clare – the Greater Trail Bantam Rep head coach for the past four years – is the first former Trail Junior Smoke Eater player to coach the team.

“I’m just looking forward to the opportunity, and just getting to know some of the guys,” said Clare. “Some I’ve coached already in Bantam, and looking forward to seeing them develop. I’ll just bring in a new set of eyes and ideas, see how it goes, and hopefully it translates into wins.”

The Smoke Eaters have reason for optimism with 16 players from last year’s team eligible to return, although Birks is still looking to make improvements at certain positions.

“I like the group we had last year, they were a pretty good group of kids, they battled hard but when we don’t make the playoffs we have to make a couple tweaks, and minor adjustments, but we’ve got a pretty good group of core kids coming back, but a few holes to fill.”

The BCHL will also add two more games to the regular season, with an additional home game for the Smokies.

The Smoke Eaters season starts Sept. 6 with the BCHL opening season Showdown in Chilliwack.

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