What will 2019 bring for our “second” hockey team?
The start of a new year is a time to look ahead, and look back.
As a long-time sports writer at the Standard-Freeholder, my thoughts when penning a column of this sort is to talk hockey, and it was yet another fairly tumultuous year on the local scene.
It seems like forever ago now, but it was just last winter when the Cornwall Nationals of the Federal Hockey League were playing games at the civic complex.
That all came to an abrupt end, halfway into Cornwall’s second season, when ownership decided enough was enough, that it would fold the team.
The Nationals gave it their all – there’s no question about that. I’ve been in these parts long enough to have seen the inner workings of a lot of hockey franchises, including the Royals, the Aces, the Comets, the Akwesasne Warriors, River Kings and of course the Colts, and nobody tried harder to market the team and make inroads in the community than the Nationals did. But it wasn’t enough. Fans didn’t warm up to the FHL, and the operating costs were pretty high, because this is a small, geographically-challenged league with only a few teams but spread out in places like Winston-Salem, N.C., and Danville, Ill.
I still like checking up on the FHL. It’s a curious little pro hockey league that started out in the fall of 2010. It came very close to not getting off the ground. I remember Mike Piquette, the Akwesasne Warriors coach the start of that first year, telling me about a conference call with other franchises just before the start of the campaign, and the question he and others were asking was, “are we doing this or not?”
The league was that close to not starting operations.
The decision was made to launch, and our local team, the Warriors, would be the first-ever Commissioner’s Cup champs the following spring, the Angelo Sanseverino-coached club defeating the New York City Aviators 3-1 in the finals.
Eight years later, they play on in the FHL, with six teams – none of them are originals from 2010 – and if you’re interested, the Carolina Thunderbirds are the hot franchise these days, with a 20-3 record and currently on an 11-game winning streak, ahead of the second-place and defending playoff-champion Watertown Wolves.
The FHL works in WinstonSalem. The Thunderbirds extended their streak at home on New Year’s Eve and 3,000 people watched it, a 6-2 win over Danville. What works in Cornwall? The Colts do. This is Cornwall’s 27th season in the CCHL, and neither the Colts nor the league seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
I mean, if you want to talk hockey stability in the city, the Colts are the gold standard. I’ve thought it a few times over the years: if there were ever a large-scale nuclear exchange on the planet, all that would survive would be spiders and the CCHL.
Major upheaval in this league is when it changes names. I still prefer calling it the Central Junior A Hockey League, but that is so 1990s nowadays.
Stability is good. The Colts continue to be a Thursday night fixture at the civic complex.
But some in the hockey community have always felt that Cornwall needs a pro or senior A complement to the Colts, and the latest team to give it a try is the latest one Mitch Gagne runs, the Prowlers. Gagne and the Prowlers took a new approach in what is a new league, the Ligue de hockey senior A de l’Outaouis.
They decided to play games at the Benson Centre, an intimate venue compared to the cavernous complex.
I’ve been to a few games so far this first season and have enjoyed the action – it’s quick and wide open.
Will it work? Time will tell, because right now it’s hard to tell.
Maybe there won’t be a final answer on that one even when we’re looking back on 2019, at this time next year.