Eskis get warm welcome

TIMMINS - The relocation of the Abitibi Eskimos to Timmins was greeted with enthusiasm during a special meeting of city council that followed Tuesday night’s budget meeting.

Timmins Mayor Steve Black and the seven members of council present at the meeting all expressed support for the move — with a few even pledging to lay down cash for season tickets.

“It is obviously really great news for the City of Timmins,” Black said following the meeting.

“They approached us maybe a month and a half ago and indicated they didn’t think it was going to be feasible to stay in Iroquois Falls and that they had an interest in relocating to Timmins.

“The discussions began at that point and we started looking at what they felt they needed to relocate to Timmins, as far as arena upgrades.

“Our staff took the time to go through the report and see what the costs were going to be, to have something to bring back to council to say we have interest in the junior team relocating back to Timmins and this is what it is going to cost.”

Those figures show that the renovations being requested by the team’s board would cost $59,600, with $10,500 of that sum benefiting other users of the McIntyre Arena.

The improvements needed to facilitate the return of Junior ‘A’ hockey to Timmins include a dedicated change room to accommodate 25 player stalls and shower facilities, dedicated office space at the arena, a ticket booth to be located in the main entrance foyer to facilitate two streams of spectators, the removal of the portable portion of the gondola constructed for the U-17 tournament to help restore sight lines, relocation of the shot clock (not currently in use) from the Archie Dillon Sportsplex to the Mac, high-speed Internet access, removal of the spectator netting from both sides of the arena, maintaining snow removal from the back parking lot and re-instalation of heating in the main entrance of the arena.

Under terms of the franchise relocation proposal presented to council Tuesday night, the City of Timmins would assume $10,500 of the renovation costs associated with multiple users benefiting from the improvements and would be reimbursed by the hockey team for the remaining $49,100 through a 50-cent surcharge on the sale of tickets, over a three- to five-year period.

“The Eskis schedule would require a minimum of two to upwards of six more weeks of ice making at the McIntyre Arena,” said Mark Jensen, the city’s director of community development and services.

“When you are talking about that time line, you are looking at increased hydro costs to run the ice plant. You are looking at additional costs of $8,000 to $9,000 to the city. To help offset these costs, we are proposing that summer ice not be provided at the Whitney (Arena), but rather that we rather focus summer ice at the Mac and help promote available rental times there during this extended period.

“Impacts on existing ice users, as well as facility users, had to be considered and what is attractive about this proposal is that it really would have minimal impacts on existing ice users, as well as facility users.

“The Timmins Eagles Bantam ‘AAA’ team would be most directly impacted by the proposal. The Eskis are proposing to assume the current change room of the Eagles at the Mac, which would mean the Eagles would be asked to relocate back to the Archie Dillon Sportsplex, where they were originally housed.

“The Eagles management has been made aware of this proposal.

“Despite the request for an additional 30 to 40 home games and 175 to 195 practices per season at the McIntyre, the impact on ice users would be relatively minimal. This would be because practices would be held during non-primetime hours. There tends to be a lot more ice time available during those periods.

“Because of the potential for the Eskis schedule to extend into April, the potential impact on special events had to be looked at. I think we have at least three that are typically hosted in April when the ice is removed. However, we don’t anticipate any conflicts because council recently approved the purchase of some composite arena flooring to cover the ice for these types of events.”

The proposal would generate $35,000 in ice rental revenues for the City of Timmins.

“Almost half of this total would be additional revenue for the city that we never collected before, which would be very positive,” Jensen said.

The proposal received approval in principle from city council, with a formal agreement to be drawn up between the city and the hockey team and then brought back to council for final approval.

Black does not anticipate any difficulty with the relocation plan clearing those final obstacles.

“That is why we wanted to have so much detail tonight, to make sure that council is aware of the issues and when the final report is brought back, it is more of a formality, putting in the terms of payment and the schedule of payment, the finer details of the agreement,” he said.

“I have full confidence it will receive the same support as it did tonight. We look forward to kicking the season off.”

Black was not surprised to see such enthusiasm for the relocation from around the council table.

“I think the support is going to be great in our community,” he said.

“It is something that the community has been missing now for a number of years since we lost the team and I think the support in the community, both in terms of spectators and corporate sponsors is going to be high.

“I have been hearing people ask since I have been on council ‘Why doesn’t Timmins have a junior team when all of the communities around us do have a team?’

“It is a big step for the City of Timmins to get junior hockey back.”

Black is a big hockey fan and feels the Junior ‘A’ hockey team will provide good family entertainment.

“I think it will definitely be something that kids are supportive of, especially if they are in minor hockey,” he said.

“My son just started playing minor hockey this year and we did take him down to the World Juniors in Toronto to watch a few games, with my daughter, as well.

“It is something they love. Being able to watch junior-level hockey in the City of Timmins is something I think kids throughout the community will enjoy.”

The relocation of the Abitibi Eskimos franchise from Iroquois Falls to Timmins received unanimous support from the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League during a conference call of the board of directors held Monday night.

“It is great for Timmins,” said NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca, who attended the council meeting and one earlier in the day in Iroquois Falls.

“I think (Eskimos president) Scottie (Marshall) and his team are going to do a great job here. I was at the Mac a couple of weeks ago. It has got some character. It is going to be exciting times here.”

With Timmins now in the fold, the NOJHL now has all of the large communities in Northeastern Ontario under its umbrella.

“It has been talked about and bantered about for years,” Mazzuca said.

“The economic situation in Iroquois Falls is unfortunate.

“Timmins is centrally located. It will be a lot better travel-wise for the guys who are coming up from the west. With Cochrane now, a lot of the guys are going to be centralized and staying overnight in Timmins, going to Cochrane and then Kirkland Lake, or vise versa.”

Mazzuca is looking forward to watching the as-yet-unnamed Timmins franchise play its first home game at the McIntyre Arena.

“I will be there, unless I am in a wheelchair, I will be there,” he said.

The commissioner would not speculate on what other changes might be in store for the NOJHL heading into the 2015-16 season.

“It could change a little bit, but that’s all I am going to say on that topic,” Mazzuca said, with a chuckle.

“We have been at seven (teams), eight, nine. This year is the most, with an unbalanced (schedule), but who knows. There is still a little bit of time left. We will see where it all ends up.”

Breaking the bad news to Iroquois Falls town council and the great news to Timmins city council certainly presented a roller coaster of emotions for Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.

The former National Hockey League player was born and raised in Iroquois Falls and played his minor hockey in the Jus Jordan Arena.

“That was my apprenticeship,” he said.

“I was at that rink when I was four or five years old and I left when I was 16, so I knew that rink inside and out … every little corner.

“It is hard to leave. I had left there but coming back and spending the last 14 years there, I loved it.

“So, yes, I have mixed feelings. We are losing a beautiful rink. We are losing beautiful people, great supporters.”

Gagne realizes, however, that the move to Timmins will have many benefits to the hockey team, especially for the players billeted in Timmins who currently have to travel back and forth for practice.

“It’s an ordeal for these kids,” Gagne said.

“They are going to college, or high school, they leave at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and they finish school and sometimes they don’t even have time to grab a bite to eat. They drive to Iroquois Falls and have an hour-and-a-half practice and basically it’s a four-and-a-half-hour ordeal.

“Are we going to benefit from not having our players go through that? Yes. We will be able to have our practices in the mornings, or have our practices at 3:30 p.m.

“We will be able to have a good program of dryland training. Our whole team will be together. They won’t be two groups all the time.”

Convincing players from other parts of the country or the United States to come play hockey in Timmins instead of Iroquois Falls might be easier, as well.

“From a recruiting standpoint, you are in a bigger city,” Gagne said.

“There are colleges and a university here, so that will definitely attract a lot of players.

Also with the fanbase and sponsors, you are looking at bigger numbers and when you have bigger numbers, you can bring in better players.

“That’s going to be a big benefit, for sure.”

There is a physical difference between the playing surface of the McIntyre Arena and the Jus Jordan Arena and that might have an impact on the style of hockey the Timmins Junior ‘A’ hockey team plays.

“We are going to have to adapt,” Gagne said.

“It is a little bit different rink size-wise. The neutral zone is a little smaller than the Jus Jordan and that could have an impact on the play. Offensively, you can jump in the play a little quicker.

“We are going to be practising there, so we are going to adapt no problem.”

The Eskimos have won all four games they have played in Timmins this season and Gagne is hoping to see them up that record to 5-0-0-0 with a win in their last 2014-15 regular-season game in the city at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex on March 6.