ERIN – Excitement is starting to grow in Erin for the beginning of the Western Ontario Super Hockey League season as the town’s Centre 2000 arena will be home for one of the league’s four expansion teams for its second-ever season.
The Erin Blitz is to play out of the facility mainly on Saturday nights this winter, although it's expecting two of three of its 12 home games during the regular season to be on Sunday afternoons.
“Me and my family moved there,” team president and co-owner Tim Wilson said of how he ended up putting a franchise in the town. “We just moved there in mid-January and we've realized there's absolutely nothing to do at night on the weekends there. I saw a great opportunity and this new model that I'm not used to, over-20, is just an amazing market. It's untapped, really. I'll tell you, the excitement in Erin is incredible. I've already got 50-plus lawn signs out around town. There seems to be a lot of support.”
Wilson’s wife, Suzanne, is the co-owner and vice-president.
The Blitz, which has had one pre-season tryout session at the CAA Centre in Brampton and is to hold four more in Georgetown at the Mold-Masters Sportsplex, are expecting to get into Centre 2000 in the middle of September, a couple of weeks before they’re to open their season with a game against the defending champion Elora Rocks in Elora. The Rocks, which will be a natural rival with the two home arenas located about 45 minutes apart, is also expected to play in Erin’s home opener, likely after the Thanksgiving weekend when the Erin Fall Fair is always held.
“We're not going to mess with the Erin Fair,” Wilson said. “We don't want to mess with them.”
Wilson had no problem having the Blitz join the WOSHL after attending the league’s annual general meeting.
“Honestly, I've never been outside of the Hockey Canada umbrella and they invited me to their AGM and I saw that they were very organized, very organized,” he said. “It's not a money game here. We're not allowed to charge for players to trade to other teams which is, honestly, a breath of fresh air so nobody's going to gouge each other. There's no Hockey Canada fees or OHA fees or OHF fees or this fee or that fee. We have one league fee for our team so, to be honest, it's a better starting point each season. We don't have to drop 20,000 some odd dollars to Hockey Canada or whatever, insurance. It's crazy, the fees. They were really organized and that attracted me and decisions were made right then and there at their AGM. It was quite a breath of fresh air, really.”
And all nine teams that are to compete in the second season were working toward putting the best possible product on the ice.
“It seems to be a good working group,” Wilson said. “It looks like the owners are going to work together and let the boys battle it out on the ice. What attracted me a lot to the WOSHL is that they want to make sure that they have a good, strong league of ownership groups working together.”
As for the team name, Blitz, it came to him one night.
“I made a list, me and my wife, and I had to have 50-plus names,” he said. “I have a hard time sleeping at night, the brain's always going. I go to sleep listening to the radio and the Ballroom Blitz (by Sweet) came on and I was like that's it, for sure. You can play with that name in so many capacities. You can put it into warfare. You can put it into football. Everybody knows what a blitz is. We're coming. That's what I was after.”
Mike Manuel will serve as the team’s first head coach and Jeff Richards will be the general manager. Other personnel include assistant coach Derrick Robson and head equipment manager Roxy Edgerton. They’re still looking for a trainer and volunteers to join volunteer coordinator Rhonda Greig, social media manager Brad Thompson, game day coordinator Steve Vanderburgh, Kelli Vanderburgh with game day operations and Joe Cosulich with sponsorship and fundraising.
Wilson has crunched the numbers and knows what it’ll take for a team to be financially stable operating out of the arena that he says has can hold about 500, including seating and standing room.
“If we get 500 a night in there, I think we'll be really good,” he said. “If we get 350 average, then I'm going to be working a little harder to get more sponsors.
“It'll be tough to pay the bills at anything less than 350.”
The team is planning to charge a $10 admission fee with kids wearing minor hockey jerseys being allowed in free, as long as they’re accompanied by a paying adult.
And with a little over a month to go before the start of the regular season, Wilson’s excitement is building.
“I’m stoked,” he said.
And he’s also looking at the possibility that Erin repeats what Elora did last season, claim league honours in their first year in the loop.
“I don't know if this is being too cocky or not, but I want to win a championship Year 1, for sure,” he said. “We're getting some quality players that are registering so I have a real good feeling we're going to field a pretty competitive team.”