OUT ON A LIMB: Recruiting is always easier when you’re winning

Editor Alistair Taylor says the representatives of the Storm hockey team could have made a better pitch

I find it amusing the Campbell River Storm want to improve the city’s image to attract better players.

How about the Storm improve their own standard of play and then maybe they’ll attract better players that way?

Honestly, when the Storm “owned” the VIJHL in the 1990s, I bet there was no trouble attracting players. In recent years, however, I hate to say it but the Storm sucked. That’s probably the biggest reason they have trouble attracting players.

A little history here – as I understand it: the VIJHL expanded into Campbell River and the owners decided they wanted to ice a decent team and drift away from being a league of undrafted midget castoffs who just wanted a league of their own to skate and fight in. The Storm led the way by recruiting players who still had a dream of bigger and better things for their hockey careers. Consequently, the Storm were perennial winners and champions. And some Storm players went onto Junior A and Major Junior hockey teams.

But then the rest of the league started to follow the Storm’s model and raised the quality of their organizations, their players and, consequently, the league and the Storm began to fall behind.

Now, the new owners of the Storm want some helping “selling” Campbell River. Team governor Wes Roed said the Storm works at promoting the community when recruiting players but Campbell River has “an image problem.” Just what exactly is that image problem? It appears that the “immediate reaction” from players is that Campbell River is “a hole hidden away somewhere.” What? Who are they trying to recruit?

I’m thinking that Roed could have chosen his words a little more carefully. If, as I suspect, he means that Campbell River is not a place familiar to say, Albertans or players from further east, I’d understand. But to say Campbell River is a hole hidden away somewhere is a pretty vague reason for recruiting difficulties. I’m a homer, I admit, but I find it hard to believe the general image out there is that Campbell River is a hole.

Again, I reiterate, maybe the Storm have trouble recruiting people because they are a perennially losing team. Take some personal responsibility for your challenges and don’t come to the city asking for $15,000.

What kind of program is the Storm offering players? What guarantees of athletic improvement does it provide? What’s in it, hockey-wise, for the player? What’s in it educationally?

Give the player a good deal to play hockey for your team and I’m sure they’ll be willing to give Campbell River a chance.

But if a player has a choice between playing for Saanich, Victoria, Nanaimo or Campbell River and the Storm are league doormats, who do you think they’re going to sign with? But if the Storm is a winning team with a reputation for quality coaching and offering a player a chance to improve, I bet recruiting becomes significantly easier.

What is the Storm doing to improve its product? It’s been years since they were a threat to win the league title.

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s catch our breath here. I think it’s a great idea that the team wants to partner with the city to promote both. Excellent concept. But let’s remember that the Storm is a business. They are not promoting Campbell River because they love our city, they’re doing it to improve their profitability (by recruiting better players). Nothing wrong with that, of course.

I also believe that a community sports team enhances the life of the community and the image of the community. It’s an asset. I’m a huge sports fan, so I’m happy to have a good team. I’d love to see the Gardens filled with 800 or more fans per game. Like the old days.

But should taxpayers give the Storm $15,000? Maybe we should ask the Seniors Centre Society about whether we should give the privately-owned hockey team $15,000?

I’m sure something can be worked out. Something should be worked out. There’s a great opportunity here. But I think, like the Storm’s level of play, there could have been a bit more finesse applied here. And then maybe both the city and the team’s images will improve.