By all accounts, it was a tough season for the Trail Smoke Eaters on and off the ice, but the executive, coaching staff, and supporters at the Annual General Meeting Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to the team and their intent on improving this year’s numbers.
There was only one change to the Smokies executive as Cory Ross stepped down to devote his time to his young family, leaving president Tom Gawryletz, Rick Basso, Jack Beard, Dawn St. Jean, Scott McKinnon, and Dave Rugg acclaimed to guide the Smokies’ ship.
The AGM released the numbers for the year ending Mar. 31 and after revenue and expenses were tallied, the bottom line showed that the Smokies were about $30,000 in the red.
“Overall the way the hockey club played, I’m not going to tell you I’m happy about losing $31,000, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Gawryletz.
The Smokies biggest hit came at the gate with Game-night sales of $117,000, down from almost $172,000 in 2011 – a number augmented by receipts from the seven game, first-round playoff series.
“We got off to such a bad start, a lot of people lost faith in us right off the bat, and they just never did come back to the rink,” said Gawryletz.
Gate night receipts also suffered coming approximately $55,000 under the previous year’s, and corporate sponsorships and advertising revenue took a hit of almost $30,000 dropping from $145,000 in 2011 to $115,000. Season ticket sales brought in $10,000 less than last year, but were up $2,000 from 2010. About $42,000 came in the form of trades and league revenue.
However, it wasn’t all bad news. The new bus proved a revenue generator as it took in almost $25,000 from rental income, and saved the team over $25,000 in travel expenses. In addition, the team is applying for a charter licence to further maximize its revenue potential.
Most significantly, the board members and volunteers worked their collective tails off to raise close to $40,000 this year through functions such as Bull-a-Rama, AM Ford Fight Night, and their annual dinner and golf tournament, nearly doubling last year’s numbers.
After a difficult rebuilding year in which the Smokies suffered a debilitating number of injuries, and were hampered by inexperience and bad luck, the team looks forward to a fresh start, with a new assistant coach, assistant manager, and recruiting staff to add some new talent.
“We’re working on a couple kids that we own the rights to . . . we have a good nucleus of young kids coming back that took way longer than I wanted definitely to figure out, but we had a pretty good group by the end of the year, kids that are pretty excited to come back,” said Coach and GM Bill Birks.
The Smokies coach has already received commitments from Major Midget stand outs six-foot-two forward Anthony Conte and goalie Braden Krogfoss from the Northwest Vancouver Giants but expressed frustration at the reluctance of skilled local players to commit to the Smokies, a fact roundly echoed by many of the teams most passionate supporters. Efforts to sign Beaver Valley Nitehawk phenom Craig Martin fell through last week, as did attempts to woo forwards Scott Davidson and Jake Lucchini.
Competing against larger markets and convincing players to play in Trail will always be a challenge for the organization, but as one supporter said, pointing to Smokies captain Clayton McEwan, “Once they get here they never want to leave.”
Still, at the end of the day, said Gawryletz, the club has to improve no matter who laces up the skates.
“Our mandate to the coaching staff this year is to get us back to the playoffs . . . the hockey club just didn’t perform and you can tell by the financial statement, that is exactly what the people (of Trail) are telling us.”