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St. Marys Minor Hockey Association to have priority ice allocation over Huron Perth Lakers

By Galen Simmons

When it comes to deciding which local user groups gets first pick of prime ice time on the Pyramid Recreation Centre’s (PRC) two ice pads, St. Marys council has made the tough decision to prioritize local minor sports – ringette and hockey – over the AAA Huron Perth Lakers.

At their June 11 meeting, councillors addressed a letter from St. Marys Minor Hockey Association (SMMHA) president Mark Brintnell explaining the association’s need for use of the Rock Rink between 1 and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sunday – ice time traditionally allocated to the Huron Perth Lakers – to accommodate recent growth in the minor-hockey program and player and goalie development programs.

“Our understanding is that at some point in the past, the Huron Perth Lakers were determined to be a ‘local sports team’ for the purposes of ice allocation,” Brintnell wrote. “The Lakers have very few players from St. Marys and our player zone. For example, only seven St. Marys players (representing only five per cent of total Lakers players) are playing Lakers hockey across all ages. Lakers teams are made up of predominantly players from other communities and some are not even from (the) Lakers zone due to F1 transfers from other towns outside their zone.

“It’s becoming more difficult and unacceptable to explain to our local St. Marys families why they need to accept less-than-ideal ice times while outside teams access prime ice. Huron Perth Lakers can still access ice, but priority should be given to our St. Marys players and families in alignment with the ice (allocation) policy.”

Brintnell said St. Marys Minor Hockey Association players, coaches and parents have had to arrive at the PRC as early as 3 p.m. for 4 p.m. ice time and leave the rink as late as 10:30 p.m. during the week as a result of being allocated less-than-ideal ice times in recent hockey seasons. The reason for that, St. Marys recreation operations manager Doug LaPointe explained in a lengthy presentation to council, is because after the town’s original rink was twinned in 2006, forming the PRC, there was no need to give one user group priority over another because there was more than enough prime ice time to go around.

As the Huron Perth Lakers organization has been a longtime supporter of the town for nearly two decades, booking ice time on weekends in the past when the rinks would have otherwise sat empty, the organization was given the same priority as SMHA and the St. Marys Ringette Association despite it not technically qualifying as a local minor sports organization since 80 per cent of Lakers registrants are not from St. Marys or Perth South.

In accordance with the town’s ice allocation policy, the Huron Perth Lakers should be classified as a non-resident group, effectively placing it eighth on the allocation-priority list behind local schools, adult non-profit organizations in town and all other town user groups.

While councillors were given three options – leave things as they are, reclassify the lakers as a non-resident group on the priority list, or place the Lakers fifth on the list, below the Lincolns and above local schools – council ultimately voted to give local minor sports priority for prime ice time over the Lakers, but gave the Lakers ice-time priority over local schools – which don’t tend to compete with other user groups for prime ice time – and adult non-profit organizations like the town’s non-body-contact (NBC) men’s league.

“I see both sides of this,” Coun. Dave Lucas said. “As a parent that had a child in minor hockey prior to 2006, driving out of town for a local-league ice time was a very frustrating experience. I think it comes back to the residents have supported this facility. Minor hockey continues to grow. When you’re at the AAA level, there is an expectation to travel. So yes, I would hate to see (the Lakers) leave the community, but when a resident comes to me and says, ‘My child is in minor hockey as a five-year old and we need to travel to Embro,’ which was the case I was in, that is very frustrating.”

Mayor Al Strathdee agreed with the decision to place the Lakers fifth on the ice-time priority list with municipal programming taking first priority, special events like hockey tournaments taking second priority, minor sports taking third priority and the Lincolns taking fourth priority. He reminded council that the St. Marys Minor Hockey Association paid $250,000 toward the construction of the PRC, a contribution necessary for the recreation centre to come to fruition and one that more or less guaranteed the organization priority ice time there going forward.

One councillor, Coun. Jim Craigmile, voted against the motion to place the Lakers fifth on the priority list citing his concern over that organization having priority over the local NBC men’s league, which could result in the league losing their traditional ice times – something LaPointe said staff would work with both the Lakers and the NBC league on to find an amicable solution.

Deanna Day, vice president of the Huron Perth Lakers, was in attendance at the June 11 council meeting and had submitted a letter about the potential change to St. Marys’ ice allocation policy that was read by town clerk Jenna McCartney at the onset of the meeting.

“I would like to express our concerns regarding the potential impact of such a change on our organization and it’s members,” Day wrote. “We understand St. Marys Minor Hockey Association’s concerns about the impact on the members and the desire for a locally based organization to be given first priority. However, we believe any changes to the ice allocation policy should be consider carefully to ensure the needs of all hockey programs including AAA are met in a fair and equitable manner.”

Day noted in her letter that the Lakers rely on ice-time agreements with communities across Huron and Perth counties, the organization maintains the same ice-time requirements year after year, it does not seek to take additional ice time away from other user groups and the Lakers act as a significant feeder team for Junior B teams like the St. Marys Lincolns. Day also wrote that a policy change like this should be made in a phased-in approach with plenty of advance notice to user groups and a decision by council to change the policy will have a significant impact on the Lakers’ game schedule for the coming season.

During the meeting, Day also spoke briefly, noting the organization requires ice time in St. Marys because referees won’t travel as far as Zurich or Hensall – an issue that has led to cancelled games in the past – but they will travel to St. Marys.

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