Dressing Room Issue Drove Out Golden Eagles

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Dressing room issue drove out Golden Eagles June 1, 2012 8:11 AM

The move from the civic centre to the newly renovated Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre was supposed to be a sign of great things to come for the Brantford Golden Eagles.

Instead, it turned into a disaster that has left the city without junior hockey.

In May, the junior B hockey team got permission from the Ontario Hockey Association to move to Caledonia.

"To be honest with you, we thought we were building a brand," said Brian Rizzetto, the Golden Eagles director of hockey operations. "But there are certain things that attract kids to come play in a city and one of those things is a dressing room with all the amenities."

Just where did things go wrong? Probably right from the get-go.

Rizzetto says that a city staff member approached the Golden Eagles about relocating to the Gretzky centre.

During the 2010-11 hockey season, ongoing renovations at the civic centre and poor ice forced the team several times to cut short practices. And one game had to be cancelled, costing the team about $1,000 to reimburse the visiting team for travel expenses.

So, the Eagles jumped at the chance to move to a new rink, giving up their dressing room at the civic centre to Major League Hockey’s Brantford Blast.

Rizzetto said he saw blueprints of the construction at the Gretzky centre and questioned certain things, such as a lack of space for laundry facilities and the size of the team’s storage room.

"Just about when it was to open, I got a tour and I was disappointed," he said of his first look at the team’s new facility.

Rizzetto said some of his concerns were addressed and some were not.

Among the issues were: the team did not get a dressing room key; room; a leaking compressor in its storage room; no heat for the first month of the season; no electrical outlets; two shower heads for a team of almost 20 players; a players’ bench that was too narrow; no curtain between the visitors and home team dressing rooms; late practice times; a poor sound system; and customers in the restaurant could watch games for free.

Some issues were resolved but one that could not be was that the team wanted a bigger dressing room.

"We wanted either a reduction in our (ice) rate so we could build a better dressing room or we wanted the city to build a dressing room that was suitable for junior hockey," Rizzetto said.

The Golden Eagles were offered another dressing room behind the one they were using. But they weren’t going to be able to put any holes in the walls, meaning the players would be in two separate rooms.

Rizzetto said negotiations on a new lease started in March. When the team received the paperwork, officials declined when they felt their concerns were not going to be addressed.

"It was one of the worst leases I’ve seen," said Rizzetto.

Could the Eagles have gone back to the civic centre?

"We never discussed going back to the civic centre," said Rizzetto. "We gave (Blast president) Peter Ham our room."

The Golden Eagles then changed gears and applied to move the team to Caledonia.

"Caledonia was our affiliate this year and their dressing room is state of the art," Rizzetto said.

"It has a coach’s room, a physio room, a media room, individual player stalls, proper power and enough shower stalls."

The team will pay 25 to 50% less in ice rates and there is a liquor licence.

When the move from Brantford was approved, the Caledonia junior C team was put on hiatus and the community got a junior B team – the Caledonia Pro-Fit Corvairs.

While the team looks forward to a new beginning, Rizzetto said he maintains a lot of good memories of playing in Brantford.

"I feel bad," he said of moving. "The fans weren’t great in number but the ones who did come out were loyal.

"There were a lot of good friendships made. I hope they’ll still come out and realize it’s not that far of a drive.

"We thank Brantford for the support they did give us. We had some great years."

Will Brantford see junior hockey again in the near future? Maybe, if Rizzetto can work it out.

"We’re going to play a couple of games in Cayuga and Ohsweken and we’d like to play a couple of games in Brantford," he said.

"We’d like to spread the product around."

Brian Smiley

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