A few years ago, I had a conversation with Danny Flynn, who, at the time, was the head coach of the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He mentioned in passing that the team consistently had trouble settling on ice time with its home rink, the Moncton Coliseum, from which the Wildcats receive the majority, if not all, of game revenues.
Lo and behold, the Wildcats organization announced on April 14th that it has been forced to move Game 5 of a tied second round playoff series against the Halifax Mooseheads to Fredericton, New Brunswick (about an hour and a half past Moncton from Halifax) because the Coliseum has been double booked for a car show. The punch line is that the City of Moncton must now pay the Wildcats $125,000 in compensation for the inconvenience at taxpayers’ expense.
Obviously this sounds bogus at first. New Brunswickers are still reeling from Premier Brian Gallant’s new budget meant to rectify crippling debt in the province. One must also consider that in Moncton, controversy surrounding whether or not taxpayer dollars should fund a proposed 7,500 seat-complex (that would alleviate scheduling issues) has been going on for at least a year. In a have-not province with an aging population and not-so-wonderful job prospects, several citizens would argue that a new rink should not be a priority because not everyone likes hockey and the City has more pressing issues. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the Wildcats will make the playoffs each year, so it is difficult to leave the Coliseum un-booked if the Wildcats don’t end up using it and the City possibly misses out on other opportunities as a result.
The other side of the debate is a contention that the Wildcats have been in Moncton almost twenty years and it’s not the first time this problem occurs. Plus the Wildcats will undoubtedly be losing out on revenue and a sizeable audience as a result, which is inconvenient (especially considering the added bonus of Halifax fans who planned to drive to Moncton and have since changed their minds). On a positive note, the organization’s booster club has offered to bus fans to Fredericton for free, which will alleviate some of the negative feedback caused by this incident from a fan’s point of view.
Wildcats players are mostly all engaged members of the community, they draw in somewhat respectable crowds during the regular season, and although they may not do much in the way of sharing their revenue with the City, they are indeed providing Moncton residents with role models and a reason to get out and spend money. It may also be worthwhile to mention that the proposed complex would also act as a convention centre that could accommodate large-scale entertainment, so it’s not just about hockey.
I see both sides. I understand that playoff arena booking is tricky and new rinks are expensive, but I also think that paying the Wildcats $125,000 in public funding is a bit much given the City and Province’s economic hardships. With that said, I approach the debate from the perspective that Major Junior ice hockey is part of Canada’s cultural fabric (see: Christmas is cancelled because… World Juniors). With few exceptions, hockey is used to pass time, stay healthy, and build social capital. And nowhere do Canadians come together more as hockey fans than to cheer on Canada’s World Junior team.
With this in view, Moncton is fortunate to be able to house the Wildcats, a member of the Canadian Hockey League—arguably the best development league in the world and the most prominent supplier of the Canadian World Junior roster. In that sense, there is no doubt that the Wildcats should be made a priority, preferably in such a way that does not empty the pockets of Moncton taxpayers. I am willing to bet, though, that investment in a new arena will outweigh the $125K payments every time something like this happens because the remainder of the complex will be somewhat useful to non-hockey fans as well.
The bottom line is this issue would have been avoidable with better planning, all parties have somehow been inconvenienced, and the City needs to decide how important it is to have Major Junior ice hockey in Moncton and act accordingly. Whether the answer is a new arena or simply better planning and problem-solving, I’m not sure. What is incontestable for me is that the Wildcats are deserving of an arena in which they can be sure to play, but like many others, I’m biased—I will almost always vote for hockey.
I leave you with Hulk Hogan’s take on the series…