Two junior A hockey teams in Hinton are moving forward in preparation for the upcoming hockey season, though legal proceedings are still pending that may determine which one moves ahead.
Only one team can claim the ice time at the Dr. Duncan Murray Recreation Centre and the Town of Hinton has acknowledged only the lease with the Hinton Timberwolves. The Hinton Wildcats seek to reinstate their lease through a decision from the Court of Queen’s Bench, and the issue returns to court on Aug. 7.
The Wildcats are currently at a standstill in their preseason efforts due to the court proceedings, said Derek Prue, expansion director for the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA) which owns and manages the Wildcats.
“We can’t really hire a head coach or general manager, we have several candidates, one is kind of a front runner. But we can’t pull the trigger until the town lets us know whether or not we can go forward or not,” said Prue.
The Timberwolves hired Jeff Richards as their GM and head coach in June, who comes with more than 40 years of hockey experience and owns PUCKS Hockey in Calgary.
Richards said they need to start moving forward with recruitment and campaigns for fundraising, sponsorships, and ticket sales.
Whichever banner the team plays under, players haven’t been scared off by the situation any more than stepping into a second-year team would, according to Richards.
“We’re still in the introductory stage and lots of footwork still has to happen,” he said.
Prue stated that he felt players had wavered to jump on board with a team in Hinton due to the questions around the lease.
“We are not signing any players because it’s not fair to the players right now,” said Prue.
“The head coach and GM are generally looking for players. At this level of junior A there are a lot more players than spots for them, recruiting is not really the biggest concern. Especially if you’ve got a good GM at the helm.”
The Timberwolves announced its first signed player on July 23, goaltender Carter Wickson. Wickson played in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) for three seasons before signing in Hinton.
Richards stated that so far he has signed three players but has held off on other announcements, partly due to the legal proceedings.
“I didn’t want to have what I’m doing confused with what’s going on, and what happened, the whole bit,” he said.
Despite a late start in the spring for the Timberwolves, Richards is confident to have a full well-rounded roster going into the season.
“I’ve been on board with the Timberwolves for a little over a month now, which preceded spring camp season of other junior leagues,” he said.
The Timberwolves have worked hard to catch up and make up for the lost time, he added. They also may have missed out on a lot of players who have signed with other junior clubs already, but Richards isn’t worried about putting together a successful team.
“It’s all going to come back eventually, because everybody fills up their cupboard, but they can’t keep everybody. So, we’re eventually going to see a lot of these kids came back into the system,” he added.
The team’s main camp is set for Aug. 23 to 25, and Richards predicts 60 to 90 players to attend.
“We’ll probably keep somewhere in the neighbourhood of 26 or 27 kids for some exhibition games that we hope to get to have a better look at those individuals,” he said. “I think it’s promising, I like what I’ve got to start with and we’ll build from there.”
Prue said the Wildcats main camp will be held Aug. 26 to 28.
“I know several of the players that played last year want to come back and they want to be a Wildcat, probably half of the players. We are getting calls, we are getting emails from guys asking and requesting to come back and wanting to play in Hinton,” said Prue.
As far as signings are concerned for the Timberwolves, Richards stated on July 19 that a handful of players will be announced in the following week.
He also hopes to recruit a few players from overseas, and bring some of last year’s hockey players from Hinton onto the team as well.
“I think it’s going to be successful in this league on this side of the border. It’s a great opportunity, and a great option,” he said.
Richards has spoken to many of last year’s players and he is ready to welcome them back.