It has been just over two months since the Newfoundland Central West Hockey League kicked off its inaugural season. The Eastlink CeeBee Stars used to be a part of that league, albeit in a different form. That was until they were unceremoniously removed from the new format. The move left a void in the arena, but also the hearts of the players and fans.
Saturday nights have a different feel at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace these days.
Gone are the large crowds, the 50/50 tickets and scores of volunteers working in various parts of the arena.
The hockey players, who appeared larger than life to the younger fans, are no longer putting on their gear at the far end of the rink while fans prepare to welcome them to the ice.
To put it simply, gone are the Eastlink CeeBee Stars and provincial senior hockey.
“It’s been a huge difference,” said former CeeBees forward Steven Greeley.
For the past decade, Saturday night at the stadium has been a tradition for rabid hockey fans.
They would fill the rink to see the likes of Keith Delaney, Terry Ryan and Darren Langdon ply their trade.
Greeley, an Upper Island Cove resident, played the better part of a decade for his hometown CeeBees. In that time, Saturday became a part of his weekly routine. “It was preparing all day for the game and then playing,” he said. Any time the CeeBees were playing, it was a weekend commitment for the penalty kill specialist.
The games on Saturday were linked with games on Sunday afternoons. That meant not being free until Sunday evening at the earliest. “My weekends are free now,” said Greeley. He still plays hockey in Harbour Grace and Bay Roberts during the week, but his weekends are spent with family now.
Even new stadium manager Mike Adam is seeing a difference. Although he was not around when the CeeBees were using the prime time booking on Saturday nights, he has heard from others about it.
“A lot of people miss it,” he said.
Saturdays at the rink are commonplace when it comes to hockey. Those involved will tell you there is nothing quite like getting to the stadium early on a Saturday.
Greeley said it was strange not heading to the venerable S.W. Moores stadium on a Saturday. It is something he has always done, ever since he was a kid.
“It goes back to minor hockey,” said Greeley.
It was last spring when word broke the CeeBees and the Mount Pearl Blades would not be a part of provincial senior hockey. The other four teams — the Clarenville Caribous, Gander Flyers, Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts and the Corner Brook Royals — were forming their own league.
At the end of the summer, a glimmer of hope remained that there would be senior hockey in Harbour Grace this winter. The team applied for entry into the Avalon East Senior Hockey League. Alas, by late September, the league had denied that application.
CeeBees officials appealed to Hockey NL and Hockey Canada as fans held their breath that something would happen at the eleventh hour to save hockey in Harbour Grace.
But, it was not meant to be.
Longtime hockey fan Ford Sparkes was a fixture during home games — his son Daniel was a forward on the team for several years.
Ford could be seen volunteering at one of the booths or just enjoying some of the “tremendous hockey” that came with the provincial senior league.
“I’d look forward to going to the game,” he said.
For him, there is other hockey on Saturday nights, but it isn’t the same.
“It’s terrible,” said Sparkes. “I loved the conversation with fans.”
For $12, there was nothing like what was being played in Harbour Grace the past couple of seasons.
“The product on the ice was the best bang for your buck,” said Sparkes.
It is not only the fans who are missing the CeeBees. Businesses around town surely miss the weekend home games two months into the current season.
Missing are the jammed parking lots and some 500 thirsty CeeBees fans and vistors from other area leaving the arena and heading for a snack or a box of adult beverages.
When the four teams in the Central West Senior Hockey League got things rolling for the 2014-2015 season, not taking part was something new for Greeley.
“Usually you’re wrapping up training and getting ready for the season to start,” he said.
“Now, you’re on the outside. I miss it.”
The departure of the Eastlink CeeBee Stars this season has left a void in the sporting landscape of the region.