Flyer fans ask the OHA to stall move to Petrolia

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Kirk Dorman of Watford skates past a sign calling for the Flyers to stay in Alvinston Friday night. The team has made a request to move to Petrolia.

Alvinston is not going down without a fight.

That’s seems to be the attitude after the management of the Alvinston Flyers announced the team had applied to move the Jr. C club to Petrolia after struggling financially.

A fan-based petition circulating in the community calls on the commissioner of the Ontario Hockey Association to block the sale until the community has been consulted and Brooke-Alvinston Council is setting up a meeting to talk to team management about the decision.

Rumours the Flyers were looking to relocate have floated around for years. Five years ago, they considered moving to Watford but in the end stayed in Alvinston. Then, around Christmas the rumours started to surface again. By Feb. 9, President Dennis Meston, confirmed to The Independent, he’d asked the league to transfer the team to Petrolia.

The reaction was swift and strong. “We catered to them. It’s a slap in the face,” said Brooke-Alvinston Deputy Mayor Jim Hayter Thursday night at council – a day after the news broke. Hayter says the town has reduced rates on ice time and upgraded the air exchanger for the team as well as providing their own dressing room.  The municipality stands to lose about $760 in ice-time revenue alone from the move.

“They didn’t even have the decency to come to council to tell us.

Hayter contends the Flyers haven’t put a winning team on the ice and that is why they don’t draw the crowds, not the size of the community. “Just because they can’t put a team together is not the fault of the community…They think they’re going to gain, but they’re going to lose.”

Council is trying to set up a meeting with the team’s executive to see if there is anyway to stop the move. Jamie Armstrong, the chairman of the Optimist Building Committee which hopes to renovate the arena, is hopeful. “I think the Flyers have been an important part of our community,” he told council. “It’s not too late yet and its well worth the converstation to see if they will stay. The Optimists are about to put more money into the arena but it is going to be pretty hard if we keep loosing our venues.”
Fans are also upset. Dan Cumming, whose family runs Three Maples Variety, has started an online petition asking the OHA to block the move. He’d heard the rumours of the move and the “not long after I read it in the paper. There were a lot of people who had no idea this was going to happen…until they read it in the paper.”

“It is my understanding that there is not an owner of the Alvinston Flyers and it has always been a community supported organization,” he says. “It is the belief of many that the community should have been given opportunity to hear the issues and have a chance to find solutions prior to any decision to relocate was made.

“There are a lot of people who care about this team and don’t want to see it go – people may ve stepped up to help.”

Andy Pavey, who was in the stands for the Flyers last game in Alvinston Friday night, agreed. “There is no owner of the team, it’s a community supported team. If it was supported by the community; why wasn’t the community told there were problems,” he said as the Zamboni circled past a sign made by his son urging the team to stay in Alvinston.

“There have been no fundraisers this year and no way for the community to support the team except by going to the game,” added Richelle Duncan whose brother played on the team.

There were some people in the stands who supported the move including fan Cailey Cook who felt the team will be “able to attract stronger players and a higher fan base and that will help them build the team.”

The move is also being greeted with caution in Petrolia. Dave Connors is the President of the Petrolia Squires. He says the prospect of a Junior C team in town will be good for the minor league players hoping to move up but he’s worried about the impact on fan support, particularly if the Flyers home games are Thursday night. “I’m hoping neither team will suffer at the gate having two home games back-to-back,” he says.

And officials with Petrolia Minor Hockey have also voiced concern about ice time. President Nick Salaris says they have always had ice time problems. “Since I’ve been around minor hockey it has always been an issue,” he says. But, he’s hopeful. “We have a pretty good relationship with the town; they tend to do whatever they can for minor hockey.”

Cumming – who launched an online petition to put the brakes on the move – has heard from them already.

“I would also urge residents of Petrolia who are already frustrated by a lack of available ice time for their children to also take the time to sign our petition,” he says in an e-mail. “Adding a junior team to the Greenwood Rec Centre ice schedule is only going to compound the problem, forcing hockey moms and dads to drive their kids to other towns for practices and games.” The petition can be found at Alvinston businesses including Three Maples Variety and in Watford at Wilson Shell and Inwood Grocery.

While there is concern, Salaris says there are opportunities as well. He says there could be an association between minor hockey and a Junior “C” Club to provide clinics to improve skills. “It could be a good opportunity for local kids who may want to play junior hockey some day. At least they can play in their own backyard.”