It’s been roughly 30 years or so since the Flyers last competed in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League (NLSHL), and Gary White believes the team’s return has been long overdue.
The former general manager of the Deer Lake Red Wings now lives in Gander, and is in the process of icing a team to compete in next year’s provincial senior league.
Last Thursday, White hosted a meeting with some of the hockey minds in Gander, and laid out a plan that would see the team ready to compete for future Herder championships.
“As we speak right now, yes,” said White after Thursday’s meeting, when asked if the Flyers would return to the provincial senior league next year to battle the likes of the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, Corner Brook Royals, and the reigning Herder champion Clarenville Caribous. “We have the foundation of a good organization, and the strong ability to fundraise, which is normally a thorn in the side of every organization. However, we saw tonight that fundraising doesn’t seem to be a problem here. We’re going to move forward, and we’re not going to close any doors until the doors are closed on us.”
After answering questions from most of the 14 people who attended Thursday’s meeting, White outlined the next step in the process of securing a spot in the league.
First, letters need to be written to Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) and the NLSHL to get accepted into the league, and then the organization needs to be incorporated.
Before White proceeds with those plans, he needed to know who was willing to put the time in to help with the organization.
“It’s very easy to talk to people and say, we want a team in Gander,” said White. “However, until people are willing to come forward and put in that 12-month commitment — because that’s what it is, a 12-month commitment — you don’t know where you stand. I’m quite confident with the people that showed up here tonight and the interest they displayed. We’re well on our way.”
Getting a team of dedicated executives is one thing, but White will also need to find a group of competitive hockey players to form the newest rendition of the Senior Flyers.
Although he wasn’t totally sure how many people would attend Thursday’s meeting, he did have an idea of how many players are interested in playing for the Gander squad.
“There’s no concern whatsoever,” said White, when asked if he was concerned with finding players. “With the players that have been showing interest from within the island, and the people I’ve spoken with in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and P.E.I., there’s a big interest. It seems they’re interested in being part of a new team, being part of a new organization, and a new way of doing things.”
When asked to elaborate on the players who have shown interest, White wouldn’t name names, but did say there are local players returning from such leagues as the Maritime Junior A Hockey League who are interested in playing for the Flyers.
“We’re going to move forward, and we’re not going to close any doors until the doors are closed on us.” - Gary White
Obviously, the team would have to bring in import players if it wants to be competitive, but White said it’s imperative the team have some local flavour — and that doesn’t necessarily restrict it to Gander.
“We’re hoping to start a foundation with players from Gander, possibly Fogo, down around New-Wes-Valley, Twillingate, and all around the region,” said White. “That’s important if we want a regional buy-in to this team.”
This isn’t the first time someone has looked at the idea of bringing senior hockey back to Gander, but whenever it was talked about, supposed roadblocks that came up were securing ice time, and getting support from the Town.
Despite warnings of hard-to-conquer hurdles, White proceeded with the idea, and quickly discovered those roadblocks were nothing more than myths.
“When I first moved here about a year ago, we kicked around the idea of forming a hockey team, but it was thought you would run into a brick wall when you brought the idea to the Town,” said White. “I met with three representatives from the Town, sent a written proposal to them, and we received nothing but support from them. Not one bit of negativity came from those meetings with the Town. They’re 100 per cent onboard…because they want to see senior hockey back in the town of Gander. You can’t ask for more than that.
“In senior hockey today, with geography and bringing players in from other parts of the province and other parts of the country, it’s not like we’re going to be practicing every night of the week,” added White, when asked about ice time availability. “If we can get the team in for a Friday night practice from 10-11 p.m., and have them ready for weekend games, that’s fine. Our biggest thing is, before the league starts, we need at least two weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) for a training camp, and we’ve been assured of that as well.”
Although he wouldn’t get into specifics, White said the start-up costs are fairly high compared to what they were in the past.
After chairing Thursday night’s meeting, he’s extremely confident saying what has to get done will get done.
“I discovered tonight that it’s very achievable,” said White. “Kudos to the Town for supporting hockey in Gander. Now it’s time for the fans and businesses to do the same.”