Appetite for hockey remains strong, but community feeling loss of Harbour Grace CeeBee Stars

Appetite for hockey remains strong, but community feeling loss of Harbour Grace CeeBee Stars

A brand new arena in Harbour Grace isn't being wasted since the Harbour Grace CeeBee Stars were booted from senior hockey in the province.

Residents of the Conception Bay North area are still going to the rink, with unusually large crowds taking in peewee hockey games.

But the community is feeling the impact of losing its beloved CeeBees.

"There's a huge void left, not because we got to see some fantastic hockey, but also because we are missing that connection in the community," said Tracy Shute, a volunteer with the now-defunct team.

The CeeBee Stars were left as the odd team out in a tangled conflict between hockey executives.

When the other three Avalon East Senior Hockey League teams decided they didn't want to play with the CeeBees anymore, they quit and formed their own league.

At first, the executives cited travel concerns and "differences" in fan support as a reason to leave the CeeBee Stars behind. Those reasons made less sense to people like Tracy Shute after it was revealed the trio would be facing off against semi-professional teams in central and western Newfoundland.

The CeeBees tried to recruit new teams to join the AESHL, but their hopes were dashed when HNL ruled their league would not be designated at the top-tier of senior hockey — meaning they could not contend for the Herder Memorial Trophy.

Without a chance to challenge for the trophy, which the CeeBee Stars won last season, the team decided against icing a team this year.

"We had a fan base as loyal, or more loyal, than any other team in the province," Shute said.

More than just hockey

Harbour Grace isn't just missing hockey, she said, but also the impact the team had on its community.

Last weekend, there would have been a pre-game ceremony to honour local veterans for Remembrance Day. Next month, the players would have donated presents to a Christmas fundraiser.

But due to squabbling between grown men in an amateur hockey league, Shute says that won't happen.

"We were an all-inclusive, community-involved hockey family," said Tracy Shute, a volunteer with the now-defunct team. "How dare HNL allow that to be taken from our area."

Instead of filling the stands with 600 fans on a Saturday night to watch senior hockey, people are filling the stands for other games.

A high school hockey tournament last weekend drew large crowds. Shute said the arena has even seen above-average attendance for minor hockey games between 12-year-olds.

Without senior hockey to fill the void, people are turning out for whatever hockey they can take in, she said.

"People are absolutely starved for a game of hockey."