The Lost Voyageurs. Take The Money & Run

 

Vees_Ont_championship_photo(2)_2009Could someone please explain how the Kingston Voyageurs wound up in Collingwood, Ontario?  A resort town of 22,000 on the shores of Georgian Bay, that hasn’t had junior hockey for years and is home to a 70 year old arena?  Simple explanation, it’s all about the money.

Monday night at Collingwood town council there were actually two groups vying for a franchise.  Apparently there’s no shortage of people lining for the privilege to own a junior hockey team and lose tens of thousands of dollars each year doing it.  One bid was for a new Junior B franchise,  the other winning bid came from the group who had purchased the Kingston Voyageurs (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), headed up by Howie Campbell, who also happens to own the OHL’s Barrie Colts.  At a previous council meeting the Barrie group brought in coach Dale Hawerchuk, local town councillors were no doubt star struck by the former NHL great.   Also part of the new ownership group is Dave Steele, GM and coach of the Stayner Siskins, a Junior C team 20 minutes from Collingwood.

Collingwood’s new franchise will be called the ‘Colts’ and will be an affiliate team for Barrie.  Their ‘new’ home arena was actually built in 1949 (two years before our Memorial Centre), the 775-seat Eddie Bush Memorial Arena is located right beside the town hall.  Before you google Eddie Bush, the Collingwood defenseman played 26 NHL games with Detroit in the late 1930’s and early 40’s, and later coached the local team in his hometown back in the 70’s.  In Kingston, we’ve got five players who scored Stanley Cup winning goals, Jayna’s four Olympic gold medals and Hefford is among eight Kingston members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.  None of them has a rink named after them here.  Go figure.

So, how did we lose the Vees?  Money talks and hockey teams walk.  And the owners, well, they usually say nothing until long after the deal is done.  Deny, deny, deny.  Ask anybody in Belleville about the backdoor deal that took the Bulls to Hamilton.  There was no opportunity locally to save the team.   An $850,000 windfall can make it easy to forget about the volunteers who did the heavy lifting to keep this franchise going for 45 years, the players who played for the logo on the front of the jersey, the coaches along the way who did it for a small honorarium to give something back,  and the kids in Kingston who no longer have a place to play.

The real tragedy here, while the owners cash the big cheque, is the high school kid from Kingston who now has to move to a place like Smiths Falls (a town of 10,000), start classes at a new school and live with a billet family just to play Junior A hockey.  Shameful.

Voyageurs final game _ 2019.962048

That wasn’t the plan back in 1974 when well-known local hockey enthusiasts; Bill ‘Squeak’ Reason, Bill Darlington, Sam Kay, Jack Cliff and Bruce Landon each threw in $100 to ‘give local kids a place to play’.  Over the years many others followed, dedicated salt-of-the-earth guys like Ron Lavallee and Roy ‘Scotty’ Martin, who kept it going.

Thirty-two straight years in the playoffs,  that’s pretty damn good.  This team had its moments.   Former players went to the NHL, the OHL and played NCAA hockey.   Back in the late ‘80s the Vees were coached by Kevin Abrams and with almost all Kingston kids they competed with the best Toronto-based teams in the Metro Jr. Hockey League.   Just ten-years ago, the rink was full, Vees fever was everywhere, the games were on local TV and coach Evan Robinson and owner Gregg Rosen won an Ontario championship going to the RBC Cup national finals in Victoria.  Which begs the question, how did we wind up here?  Don’t blame the fans, like all owners do.  Kingston is still a hockey town when we have a team we can get behind.  Witness a packed Memorial Centre last weekend to see Queen’s win the OUA championship.

In the handbook of, ‘things you don’t do when selling a local hockey team’,  there’s a new Chapter 1.   When word got out the team was sold, the worst kept secret in junior hockey, the Vees owners still wouldn’t acknowledge a deal was in place.  There was no opportunity for a final goodbye.  At the final home game Scotty Martin Jr., his Dad, Ryan Vince, Kevin Abrams and countless others should have been paraded out to centre ice in front of a packed arena and properly thanked.   A lot of those shekels reaped from the sale were earned off their backs.  Instead, it ended with a whimper, the current players not even knowing what was next.

For them and the players before them, for the volunteers who floated this franchise for 45-years, the booster club supporters, and for the kids who now don’t have a place to play, they all deserved a whole lot better.

Mark Potter is a member of the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame, President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame and a lifelong follower of Kingston hockey.