St. Stephen Aces Jr. A Hockey Club

Aces ‘here to stay’

By KATE SCOTT, Saint Croix Courier

Fans of the St. Stephen Aces can breathe a sigh of relief.

The Aces are here to stay, says Mike Horne, the team’s governor.

In December, in a breakfast meeting the Aces hosted for members of the St. Stephen Area Chamber of Commerce, it was revealed the team is running a $50,000 deficit in its $500,000 operating budget. It was also revealed the team has run a deficit in each of its four years in existence.

Two of the options mentioned at the breakfast were to relocate the team, or sit out for a year. Horne said neither of those will be happening. The team is required to make its decision by the end of March, but Horne said the team made the decision last week to stay.

“We’re not leaving. And taking the year off – that’s not feasible. We’re going to stay the course.”

When a team decides to take a year off, only six players from the roster can be protected, and the remainder of the players go into a dispersal draft. Upon returning after a year hiatus, the team goes to the bottom of the draft.

“You really put yourself in a poor situation [taking a year off],” said Horne.

“It would be worse than when we started, our first year. The Aces are here to stay.”

Horne said the job is now to work to pare down the budget, so the team’s expenses are closer to their revenues.

“We’re not leaving. And taking the year off, that’s not feasible. We’re going to stay the course.” ~ Mike Horne, Aces governor

The Aces aren’t the only team in the MHL struggling with finances. Horne mentioned the Woodstock Slammers and Pictou County Crushers have also expressed financial difficulties.

“We’re kinda hoping the league helps the whole league out with some player registration increases. There’s been discussion about doing different things in respect to increasing the players registration,” Horne said, and noted a decision will be made when each governor from the 12 teams that make up the league have their annual meeting in June.

Beginning last season in the Maritime Hockey League, all 16, 17, and 18-year-old players new to the league were required to pay a registration fee to the league. This season, all – new or not – 16, 17, and 18-year-old players were required to pay. Next season, the registration fee will apply to all players aged 16 to 19. As of right now, the fee for those players is $1,000.

The players’ registration fees are paid to the league, which rebates it back to the respective teams. If the player leaves the league, the money is returned.

In respect to decreasing the expenditures, Horne said something the team could do is to “get rid of a lot of the frills” – track suits, and the like, and said one of the team’s biggest expenses is travel.

“Every night you take that bus on the road you have you stay overnight somewhere, and that’s a lot of money; that’s $5,000 or $6,000 per trip. Its $2,200 just to take the bus just one way anywhere,” said Horne.

With a 50 game schedule, the Aces spend half of those games on the road.

Horne also mentioned the team is looking to cut down on their stick budget, which comes in at $20,000 annually. Along with travel, it’s one of their largest expenses.

Last week, St. Stephen Town Council voted 4-2 in favour of bestowing a $10,000 grant to the team. Horne said that money will likely be used for ice time. The team currently pays $130 per hour for ice at the Garcelon Civic Center.

Horne said that the board is working on different fundraising ideas, and will continue to host its annual golf tournament in July. He noted the hockey club is also hosting a dance on St. Patrick’s Day at the Garcelon Civic Center.

Since the news broke in December about the team’s financial difficulties, and paired with the team’s unfortunate lengthy losing streak, Horne said he felt the news has affected attendance. By dispelling rumours the team would be leaving, he said he hoped to see attendance climb – as one of the best ways fans can support the team.

“We’re gonna try to make a go of it. It would be hard to leave St. Stephen; it would be hard to leave the fan base, and the Town of St. Stephen has been so good to us.

“We can’t just pull up and leave the civic centre, and leave them in the lurch, because if we leave the civic centre, that’s a big void for them to fill and it’s also a big void for the community. People are used to going to hockey games now on a Friday or Saturday night, and it just wouldn’t be right.

Reprinted from the Saint Croix Courier, Jan. 30, 2018