According to Robb Hunter, the play-by-play voice of the Bonnyville Pontiacs, a group from Cold Lake, Alberta is interested in bringing a team into the SJHL. Instead of relaying everything he has reported in the last 24 hours on the subject, here are the tweets that brought the subject public. You may want to start at the bottom.
Today I started my own digging into the subject, starting with the SJHL and President Bill Chow. He confirmed the interest from "a private citizen" in Cold Lake. That citizen, referring to Robb's information, is Derek Prue, President of Skyrider Developments. Here's a quick article on Prue, written last summer.
According to Bill Chow, Prue's ownership group will have to jump through some hoops if they want to join the SJHL. Mainly due to the fact that Cold Lake is, of course, in Alberta. A team playing out of Cold Lake in the SJHL would need to gain approval from the Alberta Minor Hockey Association to play in Saskatchewan.
While open to the idea of a team in Alberta, Chow stressed there's still a lot of thought and research that has to go into the possibility of expansion to the neighbouring province. "It has to make sense geographically to the other teams within our league currently," said Chow Wednesday morning, "there has to be a financial blue-print/business plan put forward that's going to make sense not only for the team coming in, but also everybody that's involved." Chow went on to point out the process is very much in its infancy right now.
An interesting tidbit I learned in my interview with Chow was a couple of other inquiries that have been made in regards to SJHL expansion. There has been interest expressed from both Onion Lake and Warman in acquiring franchises, though no formal requests have been made. They were very general inquires, but it's still intriguing to see there's the interest from communities in acquiring teams.
|Rendering of the new rink in Cold Lake (Source: coldlake.com)|
There's genuine excitement in Cold Lake over the prospect of bringing in a Junior-A team. The City's in the process of building a new hockey rink (pictured above) and the eventual plan was to bring a team to the city. Speaking with Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland, he says the word is already all over the community of nearly 14,000. "It has created great buzz. It caught everybody off guard, nobody saw this coming so soon with the new arena," Copeland commented, "Council is very excited and I think there's going to be great support for the owners."
One of the steps the possible franchise has to clear is a letter of support for the ownership group from the City of Cold Lake. Mayor Copeland is confident that will pass by council without a hitch, and it's on the Agenda for next Tuesday (March 27th).
Cold Lake is home to a Junior-B Franchise, the Cold Lake Ice. The future would become uncertain for the team with another Junior team in the market. It's a possible unfortunate side effect of Junior-A hockey coming to Cold Lake. Speaking with Mayor Copeland, Cold Lake has a strong minor hockey program including a Minor Midget team brought together from the top talent in the area. Copeland hopes the presence of a Junior-A franchise will inspire youth to go as far as they can in hockey.
The Cold Lake ownership group is headed up by Derek Prue. As previously mentioned, Prue is the President of Skyrider Developments. He's is a former semi-pro hockey player who actually spent some of his in Junior-A career with the Flin Flon Bombers. When asked about his interest in acquiring a team, Prue responded, "It's something that's been in my blood and I just saw a great opportunity just sitting there with the City of Cold Lake."
Prue didn't have a hard time relating what made Cold Lake an attractive market. The size of the centre with an even larger trading base, its proximity to the Saskatchewan Border, the economic state of the market and of course the brand new rink. "It's just one of those situations where the stars seem to have aligned."
One of the obvious questions surrounding the venture comes back to the Alberta/Saskatchewan issue. So why is Prue looking into bringing the team into Saskatchewan? "The AJHL has more teams (16) already than the SJHL (12) and it seems as though, certainly judging recently, the only way to bring a team is to acquire an existing team which we're not too keen on doing." This statement is significant, because it somewhat rules out the St. Albert Steel moving to Cold Lake. The Steel have been in a tough situation of late, and could be on their way out of St. Albert. The parties involved are certainly keeping an eye on the situation, and I'm sure if they had to, they would take over the Steel franchise. However, there's a group in Whitecourt who may have something to say about that.
The ownership group has a letter of intent in with the SJHL, but there's still plenty to be done with paperwork and proving their business model can work. Prue feels the group is well on its way to get through the paperwork process and is confident they'll have a guiding hand from the league. Prue says one of the next stages for the process (provided it's approved by Alberta) is to bring the 'expansion committee' to Cold Lake to show off the City and the facility.
A couple of notes about Cold Lake:
Population (2011): 13,839 (Would be third largest in SJHL)
Rink: Still Under Construction, seating for 1,800
41% of the age demographic between 18-40, 5% over 65
Obvious ties with Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake
Some important distances from Cold Lake:
26 Kilometres to Sask. Border
306 Kilometres to Battlefords
659 Kilometres to La Ronge
825 Kilometres to Flin Flon
900 Kilometres to Estevan
It will be interesting to see where this all goes over the summer. Will Cold Lake join the SJHL in 2013-14 or will it be in with the AJHL? With the ambitions of the ownership and City, it seems likely no matter the league... Junior-A hockey will be coming to Cold Lake, Alberta sooner rather than later.