The Weyburn Red Wings are continuing with the changes the Junior A hockey team began making last year, as they head into the 2014-15 year with a larger deficit than a year ago, but with the aim to battle that by making the playoffs this season, fans and board members heard at the annual meeting for the Red Wings held on June 17 at Microtel.
Missing the playoffs last year led to an increase in the deficit, to where the Red Wings were in the hole for $33,487 at the end of last season.
Among the changes is head coach Bryce Thoma will now take on the role as general manager, and long-time manager Ron Rumball will look to take a different role with the team, possibly related to player development.
Rumball first joined the team in 1968 and has served in many capacities over the years, including as the general manager since 1995.
Another change is on the board of directors, as president Scott Sabados stepped down after 10 years on the board, and long-time board member Ron Fellner has also stepped down, along with Deron Fahlman and Dave Ferris.
“Although the season didn’t go as everybody was hoping, after working with Bryce, I truly believe the team is heading back to where it belongs, at the top of the SJHL,” said Sabados in his final report to the team, before announcing that Thoma would be taking over as GM in addition to his coaching duties.
Reporting on the past year where the Red Wings just missed going on in the playoffs by one game, Thoma also talked about their preparations for the upcoming hockey season.
He said if they were able to advance, “we could’ve faced Estevan and generated some more revenue for the team. It was very disappointing from my end, and I know the players were disappointed as well. As the coach, you hope you can make a difference and turn things around.”
The coach said he and assistant coach Darcy Pindus made decisions together about the direction of the team, and went forward on the basis of what was best for the team.
“We needed to change the attitude of some of the older players. I think the people of Weyburn and we as the coaching staff want to see players to play hard each and every shift. I think for most nights that happened, but some nights we just weren’t good enough, but as the season went on we improved,” said Thoma.
Looking ahead to the coming season, he told those gathered at the AGM he was reluctant to make announcements about specific players he’s been signing for the new season, as he doesn’t want prospective players to change their minds about coming to the Red Wings.
“I don’t want everyone to think we’re not doing anything. We want the best 25 players we can find to start the season,” said the coach, adding he would say they don’t anticipate losing any of their Saskatchewan-born players in the coming year.
Recognizing the financial situation the team is in, he said, “It’s a big year for us, and we have to make the playoffs. I think the players understand that (missing playoffs) three years in a row will not be good for anyone involved. That’s our plan, that’s what we hope to do.”
The coach also had some critical words to say about their Highway 39 rivals, and said the Wings are not going to go in the same direction they are.
“My view hasn’t changed of what we have to do as a team. At the end of the day, Estevan’s down the road, but we’re not the Estevan Bruins where we can afford to pay $5,000 a player on a whim,” he said, adding this is partly why he’s reluctant to be announcing players as they’re signed, saying he wants to build the team up from within.
“I think we’re on our way with our last signings, as well as some of the guys we plan on bringing in as 18-year-old players,” said Thoma.
Adding his comments, Rumball said he supported Thoma in keeping players names silent for now, and commented that the Red Wings were the only team in the league to have five 17-year-old players last year. Most other teams only had one 17-year-old player on their roster.
“That was a smart investment,” he said.
On the team’s record, he noted the Red Wings lost 22 games by one goal, including those in overtime or by shootout.
Against the RBC championship team, the Yorkton Terriers, he pointed out Weyburn had a three-win three-loss season record against them, so the Red Wings were able to contend with the team that owns the RBC Cup for the year.
Rumball said the returning players include 10 forwards, five defence and a goalie, and commented, “Those are hard-core numbers. Those players coming back will have benefitted from learning how to lose and keep your head up high. That’s a tough learning curve when you come here from a Junior B or midget program.”
He also pointed out the SJHL has a high calibre of hockey with many championship teams in its ranks, including the Red Wings, Humboldt Broncos and Yorkton Terriers, to name a few.
The Wings’ fall training camp will be different from past years, he added, as there will be two teams worth of players on the ice instead of four; in answer to a question about the effect of this, Thoma said the Red-and-White game will still be held, it’s just that any major cuts to training camp prospects won’t occur until after that game.
In speaking to the financial situation of the Red Wings, Shawn Stepp said there were mitigating factors for the team’s deficit of $33,487, including lower revenues from some of their key sources.
Some fundraiser events, like the MMA fight and the sportsmen dinner, brought in less revenue than expected, by $9,700 and $13,000 respectively.
In addition, some of the expenses were up, by a total of $44,000; this included higher player costs, higher travel costs of $11,000, and $21,000 higher staff costs than before.
Asked where this left the club with its outstanding bills, he answered the club is about halfway into their line of credit, and added, “We’re around $35,000 owing on our bills.”
One of the fundraisers they are hoping will do well is the progressive 50-50 draw, which was up to about $1,200 as of the night of the AGM, and will keep on going until the start of the season.
Some fundraisers, like a cabaret held by the Wings, only made about $1,000, which was felt to be a lot of work for not much return to the hockey club.
In the open forum part of the meeting, coach Thoma spoke to a rule change which he predicts will be “confusing”, namely the rules will be that for fighting, after one major penalty the player will be given a game misconduct, similar to what happens in minor hockey.
“The fines are ridiculous,” he added, noting if they have three players with instigator penalties for fighting, the team could be fined $10,000 by the league. “That’s the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do. … No one I know in the league supports it, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s going to be confusing.”