ERIN – Erin Blitz have the fans, they’ve got the sponsors and they’ve got love for the town and overall have a business case the team’s president says works. Despite all that, it’s not looking like the team will remain in Erin.
Tim Wilson, president of Western Ontario Super Hockey League (WOSHL) team, said it’s coming down to a lack of support from the municipality to give the team appropriate ice time for practice one-and-a-half hours per week.
“At this point, it’s gonna be a miracle for us to stay really,” Wilson said in a phone interview.
The Blitz just finished its inaugural season in the WOSHL, a senior hockey league in its second season, to bring the league up to nine teams.
Despite a rough start to the season with a string of losses, the team was able to clinch a playoff spot after a late season winning streak before being eliminated in the first round.
Home game attendance was pretty good, if maybe at times inconsistent, according to Wilson, with an average of over 200 in attendance and some games pushing 500 at the Centre 2000.
“We’ve had some fairly good attendance, not enough to pay the bills in its entirety. That’s why I’m here to pick up the slack at the end of the season,” Wilson said, later adding he believed they could break even the next year.
“For a first year, I would call it successful.”
Wilson said they have over 20 local sponsors to support the team.
He figured he had more success with sponsorships and merchandise sales with the Blitz than he ever did when he and his family previously operated a junior B team in Hamilton.
But throughout all this, Wilson said the team has struggled with being given appropriate ice time at the Centre 2000 and the team can’t practice where they play.
“We’re asking for one-and-a-half hours before nine o’clock, you know as in the start time is no later than nine o’clock between Monday and Friday, and we can’t get it,” Wilson said, adding they would pay full price and not a subsidized rate.
He explained the team had to practice at the Hillsburgh arena, which isn’t a full size rink and not a proper place for adult hockey players in a senior league to practice at.
“It’s full contact hockey, it’s semi-pro hockey and they got us in a mini-rink, so we’ve had some injuries … because we try and practice hard but you can’t there, it’s not safe,” Wilson said.
The team eventually had to move practice out of town when the Hillsburgh arena closed due to a refrigerant leak.
A request for comment from the Town of Erin’s recreation department management was deferred to town spokesperson Lavina Dixit, who said the team was offered ice time at Centre 2000 that was available and they aren’t able to take away ice time from existing sports groups.
“We use our Allocation Policy to prioritize our user groups. This Allocation Policy states that any new or emerging sports group must take ice times that were unallocated for the previous year, or times that have been given back from our current users,” Dixit said in an email.
Dixit also added the Erin Blitz were encouraged to reach out to minor groups to trade ice time.
“The town supports all sports groups and has made every effort to accommodate the Blitz, as well as other teams,” Dixit stated. “The Town does not discourage sports teams of any kind to play at our facilities and makes all possible efforts to provide fair allocations to our numerous users.”
However, Wilson is not feeling the support from the municipality and said he’s considering options for the team, adding he's being courted by other towns to bring the team there with promises of giving the team what they need.
He doesn’t want to take the hockey team out of Erin and starting fresh somewhere else would be a hit from more than just a sponsorship perspective. Wilson said he loves the opportunities to give back to the community and to provide a form of entertainment that gets people out of their house.
“I’m giving it every last chance we can to stay, but I gotta pull the trigger,” Wilson said. “We gotta plan you know, and nothing’s fast these days as you know. It’s crazy, it’s a real shame.”