After the team's worst season in the Pacific International Junior Hockey League, the Junior B Squamish Wolfpack is considering a move to a new host city/arena. Coach Matt Samson says the decision will likely be made at the end of March before the team goes through spring training and recruitment for the 2011-2012 season.
"We have to gear up and prepare for spring camps, and identify the kids we want to bring in next year, and it makes a big different in recruiting depending on where we're going to end up," said Samson. "If nothing happens by April 1, that's the date we've imposed to make a decision."
Samson confirmed that they are in talks with other parties in North Vancouver regarding the future of the franchise, as well as talks with the Squamish District and Brennan Park arena over arena fees and the level of support.
"Basically, what we've had to do is our due diligence, reflecting on the last three years and some of the things that have worked against us," he said.
This past season the Wolfpack won just six games and earned 16 total points in 46 league games, the second-to-worst record in PIJHL history.
There were a lot of reasons that the Wolfpack struggled, from playing with a young team in a league where the players are getting older to the fact that the team was placed in the Tom Shaw Conference against four other teams that are among the top Junior B squads in the province - and possibly Canada. The result was that the Wolfpack was the only team in its conference to finish with a losing record, while three teams in the rival Harold Brittain Conference finished below .500.
The PIJHL is also very much a local league, said Samson, where players tend to join the teams that are closest to where they live. In that respect, Samson said the level of hockey in the corridor is not where it needs to be to field a competitive team.
"One of the problems we've identified is the availability and talent of Sea to Sky corridor kids in Whistler and Squamish, and we're just not getting the draw there," he said. "We've looked at where the majority of our kids have come from, and the majority are from the North Shore."
Samson said the level of hockey is strong from PeeWee through Bantam, but drops off at the Midget level. There is no Major Midget team in the corridor, and only a handful of local kids will make the trip to the city to play for other Major Midget teams where the PIJHL does the majority of its recruiting. Samson said the number of local players of Junior B calibre depends on the year, adding that the numbers could easily change - having a Junior B club in the corridor to progress towards generally helps in that regard.
This year two strong players on the team were local, with rookie Matt Bonin of Whistler hitting his stride as the season advanced and Konrad Sander of Squamish leading the team in scoring. Sander was traded to the Delta Ice Hawks once the Wolfpack was eliminated, and is now battling Richmond for the conference title.
To stay in Squamish, Samson said they would need lower arena fees and other forms of support from the Squamish District. As well, he said some local team sponsors have not met their obligations.
Samson would also like to change the way the league is organized, but isn't hopeful as long as some teams in the league are benefitting.
"The league has to recognize it (the imbalance), but if you look at the other side in the Harold Brittain conference, they're not going to want to change anything - they get a team in the finals. Meanwhile the best two teams in the league are in the semifinals right now," said Samson.
Before the franchises in Squamish and Aldergrove were added for the 2008-2009 season, there were eight teams in the PIJL and no conferences. All eight teams made the playoffs.
Now, with 10 teams, there are two conferences of five teams, and only the top four teams in each conference move to the playoffs regardless of their record.
In their three seasons the Wolfpack have never made the playoffs, but if the conferences were removed, or teams reseeded at the end of the season, then the Wolfpack would have made the playoffs last season.
"In my opinion we've done (the conference system) for three seasons now and it doesn't work, but our organization is only one of 10 and we need a majority of teams on board to change things," said Samson.