The Trail Smoke Eaters want to keep the Trail Memorial Centre open for an extra month of development.
Smoke Eaters owner Rich Murphy approached Trail city council virtually at the Governance and Operations Committee meeting on Mar. 8 requesting that the city keep the ice in until April 30.
“We’re just requesting that the city of Trail to keep the ice open until the end of April for a couple different reasons,” asked Murphy during a zoom meeting with council.
The Smoke Eaters and all BCHL teams lost significant sums of money after the cancellation of 2020 playoffs and most of the 2020-21 season. The Smoke Eaters played exhibition games in November before the PHO shut the season down. They’ve remained in practice-only mode until Friday, Mar. 12 when the league announced a return to play in April.
Trail native Wes Mussio, owner of the Nanaimo Clippers, put his BCHL team up for sale earlier this month, in the wake of pandemic pressures. The Western Hockey League along with the BCHL also approached the B.C. government for a 9.5M bailout plan.
The Smoke Eaters owner told council he’s lost close to $1M since purchasing the team in 2016, and is down about $250,000 from the loss of revenue caused by the pandemic shut down.
“The only option we have this year to generate revenue is to continue to train players through April, if we can,” said Murphy. “There is a good possibility we will have another large loss going into next year as well.”
The Smoke Eaters plan to run development camps for minor hockey age players, and pay for 30 to 50 hours of ice time if those camps are allowed to go ahead.
It was the COVID uncertainty that scuttled the original BCHL plan to return to play in December, and that same uncertainty has plagued every league and sporting association in Canada.
In the U.S., however, junior hockey leagues started up in October and have played almost a full season.
“I have seven companies and this is the only one I don’t have control over,” Murphy said. “The government is dictating what I can and cannot do and it’s been a very frustrating and tough 12 months.
“We’re just looking for a little help here to keep the boat afloat.”
According to Trail Recreation director Trisha Davison’s report the costs would be between $2,700 and $4,200 for ice rental for the camps, offsetting the expenses for staff.
Councilor Colleen Jones asked and Mayor Lisa Pasin confirmed that there is a possibility that the city could access the COVID emergency fund to alleviate any pandemic-caused losses.
Council deliberated on the request and passed a motion to direct staff to leave the ice in until the end of April.
Charges would be applied according to the Trail Rec fee bylaw based on revenue from the skill development camps.
In the event, the camps are unable to go, then the matter will be returned to council for further review.