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Bruce II re-opens after delays

PAB Minor Hockey eager to return to the ice for 2023-2024 season

PAB Minor Hockey has experienced delays two years in a row, but will return to the ice this week. – © Brent Seaward

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — The Bruce II has been undergoing an energy retrofit upgrade for weeks, and has been plagued by delays. As a result, organizations that regularly utilize the sports complex, such as minor hockey and figure skating, have been unable to access the building to get their 2023-2024 season underway. It has also delayed sales of their annual ticket fundraisers, which are critical to continue operating local non-profit sports groups. Minor hockey usually starts over the Thanksgiving long weekend. “The user groups of the stadium, the main user groups, we got a letter telling us that the ice was not going to be available for renting this year until October 22,” said Brock Seaward, President of Port aux Basques Minor Hockey (PABMH). “We got together. We met with the town. They outlined a little bit what was taking place, the type of work that was taking place up there, and that they had tried to get the contractors to come earlier during the summer, but it was communicated to us in that meeting that it was not possible. The timeline for the shutdown was the 2nd of October. We were fortunate that the town did work with us enough that they put the ice on in late September, so we were able to utilize the ice for eight days.” For the last five years minor hockey has been trying to get on the ice even earlier than usual, but due to Hurricane Fiona in September 2023 and the renovations this year, that hasn’t been possible. “Last year was the first year that we were going to see it kind of come to fruition, where they were going to put the ice on for us so we could start our minor hockey program in late September and, of course, Fiona happened, and they had to have the military staying inside of the stadium while they were here assisting with the Fiona disaster effort, so we were delayed last year as well,” said Seaward. “So traditionally it has been Thanksgiving weekend, even though I’m pretty sure that the town realizes that there’s an appetite from all the user groups to have the ice on early September.” Unfortunately for the minor hockey group, because the season ends at the same time every year, the players are losing out on a significant amount of ice time. “We can’t extend the season past Easter, so essentially, we are losing now this year. One of the things that we’re finding hard is that there’s some new regulations brought in by HNL (Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador) this season where our teams need to be picked a little earlier. We’re very fast approaching those deadlines, and we need to let HNL know how many teams we have attending,” said Seaward. “So what we’re seeing — even though our registration is open here in Port aux Basques, and we do have a nice few kids already registered and signed up — there’s always that contingent of people, they wait until the last minute. Now when they know for sure, that’s when they register. So we have to let HNL know how many teams that we’re going to be sending to provincials during Easter, and so we’re probably going to run into a little bit of trouble there. But I guess it’s like anything. We’re just doing what we can do and trying to anticipate as many problems and try to navigate all that stuff as best we can.” The worry is that, because of the lack of ice time, the players in Port aux Basques won’t be as well prepared as players in other communities. “That is a big concern coming from our people that we have in place for coaching and stuff. That is a big concern. We have centres like Stephenville. We have centres like Corner Brook, Deer Lake. They have their ice on. They’ve been participating in minor hockey now for about a month and a half, some people have, so those kids are a month and a half ahead. They’re in shape. Their muscles are warmed up. They’re into their hockey season, no doubt. We’ve had eight days of a hockey camp that was put off by a good friend of our Minor Hockey Association, Juan Strickland of Strictly Hockey, so that was a good thing, but that won’t replace the amount of ice time that those kids got that signed up for that hockey school in September,” said Seaward. “They had the same equivalent of ice time as about three weeks of hockey, but again, it was all brand new, getting your muscles in shape and getting some new hockey gear adjusted and things like that. So there’s no doubt in my mind that our kids are going to be, for the most part, a little bit behind the eight ball when we actually get rolling and that will obviously have a trickle-down effect as the year goes by.” Minor hockey has been in talks with other minor hockey groups to inquire about utilizing their ice so the players don’t fall further behind. “Those talks have been undergoing for the last about a week or so. Just trying to put together a bit of a contingency, because some of the concern is that there are some minor hockey players that join hockey for the social aspect of things, not because they’re severely competitive, more that they just want to come and hang out with their friends and at the end of the practice, probably grab fries at the canteen. It’s a social thing for some people, so what we’re afraid of now is that if this stretches on for much longer, these are players that are going to be content in their current routine of just staying home, playing video games, or hanging out, and we’re afraid that we’re probably going to lose players because of that as well,” said Seaward. “So that’s why we’re trying to come up with some contingency plans, much the same as back in the 90s when our original Bruce Arena burned down. Our minor hockey system kept going. They came up with contingency plans. It was a season of road trips, and our neighbouring communities helped us out as best they could, but at the same token, I don’t believe that this shutdown is going to be for the full season, obviously, but I guess just in comparison to our minor hockey, you work hard to make sure that everybody gets their minor hockey experience, whatever their reason is for wanting to play minor hockey.” The reason for a lot of the unavoidable delays with getting the facility re-opened stemmed from supplier issues. “The majority are due to suppliers and products. With a lot of products, there’s a global shortage. Unfortunately, it’s not just provincial or just in Canada or the U.S. It’s globally, so we’re battling global shortage on a lot of products,” said Town Manager Leon MacIsaac. “(Delays are) most likely related to COVID, because a lot of companies and manufacturers are still playing catch up. It’s going to take them quite some time to catch up to the delays they’ve experienced. During COVID a lot of employees and productions shut down, a lot of employees were sent home, manufacturing facilities shut down, and they’re still struggling to get back online like anywhere else. They’re struggling to get employees back into the workplace as well, and that’s not just here. That’s everywhere around the world.” Even though the delays were unexpected and unavoidable, the Town worked to keep lines of communication open with the organizations that would be impacted by this extended closure. “We’re in regular contact with their organizations. As we explained to them, due to circumstances beyond our control, we can’t possibly move the project forward with the supply line interrupted, and this is unknown. You can’t prepare for it. It’s just something that everybody’s experienced here and across country with multiple projects,” said MacIsaac. “The original plan back in spring this year was to have the building open by October 14th. That was the earliest date they could possibly have it done. So they just restored power to the building — the transformer was another item that had major delays — so as of today (Thursday, Nov. 2), we’re back full power, and we’ll reopen hopefully by the end of the week. So we’re three weeks off the original schedule that was provided back in late April, early May, I think it was.” The Bruce II Sports Centre re-opened for bowling and fitness on Friday, Nov. 3, with an anticipated re-opening of the ice rink and swimming pool for Monday, Nov. 6. “We’re hoping to be reopening again by Monday (Nov. 6), if possible, but we’re still battling ice conditions at the Bruce II complex,” said MacIsaac. “So once we get that straightened away, we can be back in operation. We tried to get the ice on early for the user groups, but in reality, with the amount of work going on in the building — and we have high levels of humidity through late summer and early fall — it did not make the process easier by any means.” MacIsaac understands people may be losing patience, but there was nothing the town could do. “I know people are really frustrated, but it’s beyond the town’s control. There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing the contractor can do to avoid delays. We had a number of products that were originally scheduled to come in at 28 weeks. It ended up being 35 weeks despite numerous letters and calls and emails. The companies still couldn’t give us any sureties that would be here on time,” said MacIsaac. “We’ve been at this process, not just in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been working at this project since early spring to try to move it forward as quick as we possibly can. I know people asked, ‘why couldn’t you do it during the offseason’, but when the project funding comes out, it has to be spent within a certain time limit. You do get extensions, but a contractor, once it is awarded, it’s their own decision, and the project needs to be completed in a certain period of time, and they can’t just stop the project. Some unforeseen delays come up. They have to keep moving forward. This is a contract that has to be followed. It’s not our project. This is a federally-funded project, so everybody it is under the time crunch of having it done within the time period for the funding as well.”

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