It might be a shock to some but to others, it’s just been coming down the line for a while.
Unless there’s some kind of miracle, the Smithers Steelheads will remain on the bench for next season.
According to head coach Tom DeVries, the last few seasons of playing with a short squad has taken it’s toll on the regulars and they just can’t see doing the same thing again this year.
“We could be living on a dream world here but it’s just not going to happen,” said DeVries.
“I’ve spoken to people but they just can’t commit to playing for the team. They have too much other stuff going on and we just cannot get a committed 15 guys. It’s been the last two years like that and we just cant do it anymore.”
As much as anything else, the road trips where the team could only field nine to 10 players has made those possible players think hard about that commitment. With a short bench and playing a pair of games on the road, Monday morning back on the regular job becomes more and more difficult.
The Central Interior League offers a high level of play but it’s not the players’ regular job.
“It’s too bad for this town. We just don’t have the bodies at this point. Maybe in a year or two they‘ll come back. They don’t want to do this again with just two lines. It stopped being fun. Even on our bus trips, going with with just eight or nine guys, it’s not the same as having 15 or 20 guys,” he said.
Ryan Coltura from the Town of Smithers Recreation said the team is still booked for arena use.
“It would be a real shame to lose the Steelheads. They’ve been such a big part of hockey in Smithers for a long time and we hope they can get some players to step up,” he said.
“The Town supports creative solutions from the league and as of right now they are booked in the system and we hope they will be playing in the arena next year. It would be a shame if they didn’t play even if only for just a year.”
While the league could not be reached for comment, it appears that Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert were all planning to play next season. DeVries felt that travel was not nearly as big an issue for those teams as it was for the Steelheads due to the close proximity if the teams.
“They can play and be home within an hour most of the time. It will be a little bit tough for the league but the travel issue is not so bad for Terrace and those other teams,” he said.
The away games for those teams are not difficult because they don’t have to go as far every time. Games with Quesnel and Williams Lake are still long bus rides but the total number of long rides is a lot fewer for them than for the Steelheads.
The Steelheads still have ice time booked and have until their final deadline to confirm but DeVries feels that the chance of coming up with enough committed players is quite unlikely for this season.
“We booked the ice for next year and we have until Aug. 15 to cancel. I’m sure the town will fill it or shut it down. The players are OK with it. They just don’t want to do the same thing again,” he said.
“The players will all continue to play in the rec league here. It’s not a slouch league,” he replied when asked if that would be the end of their participation.
“We’ve been thinking about this for about a half a year now or longer but the writing has been on the wall. We need to have some guys who do want to commit and we need to know by next June. We need guys who really want to play,” he said.
“I’m hoping that some more young guys will step up and decide to play. We’re going to take a time out and see what happens from there.”