Just An Observation: Only time will tell if AJHL move is the right thing

Going to take effort and cash, lots of it, for Blackfalds to make a go of it

When the junior B club from Blackfalds announced their move to Sylvan Lake this past summer, it was somewhat confusing to a lot of hockey observers around the province.

However, all things became clearer last month when the community announced a huge expansion to its multiplex facility with a second ice surface with seating for 1,200 and a statement that it was courting an Alberta Junior Hockey League team.

Well, everything is now out in the open with the official announcement that Calgary will be down to one club when the puck drops on the 2021-22 season following the approved sale of the Mustangs — formerly the Royals — to Doug Quinn, owner of Quinn’s Oilfield Supply.

It wasn’t entire unexpected, especially when the Mustangs were publicly negotiating a move to Strathmore, and when that blew up, were allowed a leave of absence for this season back in May. That’s when the speculation ramped up that Blackfalds might become a reality.

While this brings the AJHL to the central part of the province for the first time and likely a renewed sense of optimism for the league, it also marks a rather significant loss.

First off, the Mustangs/Royals franchise has been in Calgary since 1990 and enjoyed a measure of success for many years.

Unfortunately, a tough economic climate the last few years saw the club lose major advertising and ticket revenue. It also hasn’t helped that the team missed the playoffs two the last four seasons, has not finished higher that fourth in eight years and has only won in the preliminary round since it won the league title in their inaugural season.

However, it’s not going to get any easier in the new market that features a popular WHL club, two senior AAA teams, two senior AA clubs and five junior B teams — all within a 45 minute drive. And, this doesn’t include local college and elite minor hockey teams.

In addition, there is also just so many advertising/sponsorship dollars to go around and with that many teams in the area and the economy not seeing a rebound anytime on the horizon, who is going to benefit and who will be left hunting for that last nickel to survive?

And while the AJHL has boasted a rise in attendance numbers, not all is as rosy as it seems.

Calgary’s other club, the Canucks, had to hold an emergency fundraiser last fall in order to save the franchise. Meanwhile, Whitecourt experienced some struggles prior to this season starting with sponsors unable to make commitments as well as as launching a major ticket drive.

Then there was Olds, who almost didn’t finish the 2016-17 season after its finances fell apart and needed a crowdfunding effort of $500,000 to buy the club and keep it on the ice.

Now while hockey remains huge in this province and there is no doubt that fans will initially fill the new arena, the issues will be how deep are the pockets of the new owner, will the club attract the necessary talent to generate long term success and will the price point for tickets and advertising entice people to spend their money on this franchise instead of putting it on something else.

Guess we’ll find out when the yet-to-be-named club hits the ice in two years.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

And then the other shoe dropped.

Albertans found out last week exactly what the new provincial government would do to them via the budget released Oct. 24.

The expectation was that expenses would be trimmed. However, now we know it’s an average 2.8 per cent reduction in program spending — about $1.3 billion over four years. We also know that revenue is anticipated to remain flat and that there will be civil service reductions, to the tune of 7.7 per cent over four years, mostly through attrition and retirements.

What was not expected was the hikes that regular Albertans will now face, while the public has been told since before the election that they would be better off and not pay more.

Schools will now have to make due with the money they are currently getting, until 2023, as the overall education budget will be frozen at $8.2 billion regardless of how much growth there is in the student population.

Municipalities will see considerable reductions to capital funding, a drop of nine per cent ($236 million) in the next three years, while the big cities will see billions deferred until 2022-23.

Those that already depend on government for an income through disability payments can expect their money to go no further, as the province is no longer linking the payments to hikes in inflation.

Attending university? Expect to pay more for less as the province will slash five per cent for advanced education and the tuition freeze has been lifted, with hikes capped as seven per cent annually for the next three years. They have also tacked on another one per cent to student loan interest rates.

And lastly, if you like to see at night or have anything electric powered, that’s going to cost more since the province is removing the cap on prices, which will likely lead to what the market was like four years ago — never knowing what price you might be paying each month.

While the government is doing what it said by attempting to control the debt and deficit, it is not keeping its promise of making life better for a number of Albertans.

But that is…just an observation.

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