St. Stephen mayor baffled by lack of answers from junior hockey team on its future
The town of St. Stephen, N.B. is worried the only game in town is about to leave the town.
While the St. Stephen Aces of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League haven't confirmed that they've played their last game in the community, town officials fear all signs point in that direction.
On Tuesday, the Aces dressing room was empty, and it may stay that way into next hockey season.
“This is huge,” said Mayor Allan MacEachern. “This is a major business in our community. The community needs to be involved in this decision. It's all going on behind the scenes. It's very hard to find out what's going on. No one can talk to you. I've reached out to the hockey league and no response.”
The Aces have been the anchor tenant ever since the town's civic centre opened its doors.
Local hockey fans are also upset.
“Attendance is, from what I hear, better than most of the teams in the league, so I just can't understand why they'd even consider moving them,” said season ticket holder Lawrence Colborne.
Allan Nesbitt says the community has embraced the team.
“Kids go to the games, parents take their kids to the games,” he said. “It’s a good place for the community to go on a weekend.”
They also say the league is choosing an odd time to pull out.
“I think with some of the new construction going on around town, I think eventually you'll have more people here, more jobs and more support for our team,” said Bruce Estey, another season ticket holder.
On game nights, fans fill the local pubs and restaurants.
“I would say from our clientele, and the feedback from them, that they enjoy coming here to eat and then going over to the game,” said Lisa Aronson, the manager of a nearby restaurant.
The town says another local group is willing to buy the team and keep it in St. Stephen, if given a chance.
“You would think that that league would not want to uproot a team that is established, that has been five years in the making, that's in a community, the right size community for that kind of hockey league too,” MacEachern said.
CTV News reached out to both the team ownership and the Maritime hockey league. Both declined to comment on the future of the team.
Town officials in the border community say if the team is leaving, they'd like confirmation of that so they can start looking for a Plan B for their civic center. But the mayor says they'll probably have to wait until an official announcement is made next week in Fredericton.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.