What will 2019 bring for our “se­cond” hockey team?

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - LOCAL NEWS - tham­ble­[email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/Free­hold­erTodd TODD HAM­BLE­TON

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.

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