While most of us are not thinking too much about local hockey at this time of year, a few locals have it on their minds since it may mean the difference between having a season or not next fall.
With a deadline fast approaching for declaring teams for the Central Interior Hockey League (CIHL), the Smithers Steelheads are unsure if they will be able to have enough players on the roster to be able to play in the league.
Head coach Tom DeVries feels that the squad needs at least another six or seven who can commit to the team in order to have a team in the CIHL.
“We may need to sit out the next season and try to get going after that. We need to let the league know within the next month,” he said.
“We’re not getting anybody knocking down the doors. We have some from previous years who still want to play but not quite enough to go through what we’ve gone through the last two years,” he said.
The last couple of years the team has had to deal with a limited number on the roster and this has had its toll on the team as it has gone through the seasons.
“It’s tough to commit but it’s a full contact game and it’s a risky business,” he said.
“Last season we had a good year. There was a three-way tie for first place. And then we lost one of our best players at the end of the year and it hurt us. In the playoffs, well, you can’t win them all.”
He said that even for the home games, they could only dress about seven local guys.
“We hope to get some to come out of the wood-works and maybe in a year or two we’ll have a full roster again. We want to keep going. We don’t want to stop,” he said.
That said, he felt that the players have to be committed to play.
“We used to have piles of players and then, all of a sudden, everybody moves away again. It goes in cycles for work, for example, and now it’s time to get some bodies but there is nothing coming,” he said.
He felt that while the sponsorship was great and kept the team going, fan support was down.
“Each local player brings in 20 or more fans and now it’s not at the level that you would like to see,” he said.
“Sometimes they can’t commit due to a work schedule, for example. Maybe after a year off we’ll get some younger guys saying they want to come back. There are a handful of young guys who are out exploring Junior B and work and school,” he said.
Level of play in the league is high.
“Once in a while you get someone in the league who has played pro or Junior B but they don’t dominate. We have some big boys out there,” he said.
Several meetings are planned for the next few weeks.
“We’ll see where we’re at. We’ll talk to the players and see what they want to do. We know already that a few players won’t be back,” he said.
“Maybe a few guys will play a year of rec league and then decide they want to play something better. We’ll have a couple more meetings before we have to make a decision,” he said.
Ever the optimist, DeVries felt that although they really needed another half-dozen players, maybe two or three would be enough.
“We have a month to tell the league. The players have to decide whether they want to go with what we have or not,” he said.
The Steelheads can be contacted at smitherssteelheads.com/contact.html.