Wouldn’t you miss the River Kings if they were gone?
That’s essentially the question Terrace River Kings executives are posing to the public in a notice circulating around town imploring residents and businesses to “Save the River Kings”.
The notice warns that without more sponsors and community support, the 2013/2014 CIHL season – the team’s 10th – could be the team’s last.
“We’re losing money,” said River Kings general manager Ray Hallock. “Everything costs more, everything is going up in price every year – fuel costs, travel costs, accommodation, everything, you name it – and our attendance is going down every year.”
This is the case throughout the CIHL, he said.
“They all struggle. This year, Hazelton came back in and then dropped out again when they discovered that they had some previously uncleared debt that the new guys didn’t know about. Vanderhoof dropped out this year,” he said. “Powerhouses like Kitimat, Smithers and Rupert, they’re still going to be okay. I know Houston is suffering a little bit. Williams Lake… Everybody’s crying the blues these days.”
And Hallock says that a few years ago – before the boom – he could understand the lack of sponsorship, but that’s not the case anymore.
“The last five years, we can’t expect people to dig into their pockets and find money they haven’t got,” he said. “But you know then all of the sudden this year… Drive around, what do you see? 500 new vehicles every hour. There’s a lot of money going on around here now but none of it’s coming back in to the community.”
The River Kings are an integral part of the community, says Hallock, because they provide a place for graduates Terrace Minor Hockey to continue to play hard-hitting, competitive hockey for the rest of their active lives.
“Every year we’ve got new kids out of minor hockey,” he said. “We give good hockey entertainment.”
And while Hallock says with all sincerity that if the team’s fortunes don’t improve this year, either at the gate or with sponsorships, this could be the team’s last year, the initial response to the campaign – which started a few weeks ago – has been positive.
“Early returns have not been bad,” he said. “The money is trickling in… Can’t really complain about it and it’s early yet, so lets wait and see as the season gets closer, see what happens.”
The season is coming up quick – the Kings face off against the Prince Rupert Rampage in the Challenge Cup tournament opener this Friday night in Prince Rupert. And Hallock says the team is looking sharp this year.
“I think our prospects are really good this year,” he said. “There are some really good young guys, a couple of Jr. B guys have come back, and the good part about it is that we haven’t really had to cut any regulars to make way because there’s just been enough of the regulars that have moved on that they’re kind of making room by attrition.”
Jr. B players coming back to Terrace to play is a recent development.
“One of the benefits that we’ve got this year from the boom is that there are enough jobs out here that some of the good young guys are moving back,” explained Hallock. “For years that was part of our big problem – when they hit 18 they had to leave town because there was just no work for them here.”
This new team will have to build on last year’s momentum, which came close, but ultimately fell flat.
“Last year except for a couple of missteps on Friday night we would have been in the Coy Cup finals and man, watching that game on the finals, the way we played even the Friday night before we would have walked all over Kitimat and won that,” he said.
“I really feel that this could be our year,” he said. “And how great would that be? Ten year anniversary, win the Coy Cup, even if we were broke next year at least we would go out with style.”