Prescott Flyers owner reflects on the golden memories
Harrison family thanks a community for a decade of support
PRESCOTT - Kevin Harrison is hoping that the community will remember the good times.
Confirming that the league had provided the final stamp of approval to sell his CCHL2 Prescott Flyers franchise to the owners of the Pembroke Lumber Kings, Harrison expressed appreciation for the 10 years he had at the helm of the junior team. The team is expected to remain in the CCHL2 next season, where they will be renamed and play in the town of Cobden.
"The team has been sold to the owners of the Lumber Kings," Harrison stated, clearly working to contain his emotions. "This is an unfortunate situation. I am frustrated with the way things ended and the decision we had to make. We are trying to remember the positives over the last ten years, not the current disappointment," he said.
After a banner season in 2014-15 that saw the Flyers capture that coveted Gill Cup during games played in front of packed houses at the Leo Boivin Community Centre, the team has been challenged by a drastic change in the regional junior hockey landscape. When the CCHL altered alignment, a move designed to change the former Junior B level into a group of developmental teams for their Tier 1 league in 2015-16, teams like Prescott who where void of any Tier 2 affiliation found themselves in difficult situations.
"The last two seasons we have struggled to keep up financially and try to stay competitive," Harrison explained, pointing out that those conditions caused issues both on and off the ice. "Over the last two years we have had to trade some good players away at the deadline, basically as a business decision to help pay the bills, and a poor hockey decision because each year we would have to start over again with the team on the ice. Higher cost of the league, mandatory equipment packages, the rising cost of newer technology, busing has priced the local players and the older players out of the game. Traditionally those are the guys we have had in our roster. It's kind of a catch-22; we can't charge as much as the other teams (player fees) because we wouldn't have players (afford to) play for us. So at the end of the day, the richer teams get better, go a little deeper in the playoffs and get a little richer."
The new nature of the league has been a huge stumbling block.
"Without latching on to a Tier 1 team, and we have tried hard for two years to do that and were not able, we are not able to get the young kids out here," he finished.
After attempting to stay competitive for a pair of campaigns, and with the team struggling on the ice, Harrison came to the only conclusion he saw feasible and sold the franchise.
"We have lost a fair amount of money over the last two years. We can't take that risk any more and we don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. It's a tough decision," Harrison said.
Moving forward, with the option of looking for involvement at other levels of the game, Harrison is content right now to simply remember the value his tenure with the team has brought the players and the community.
"The pride our Gill Cup win brought to the kids and the community was huge of course, but mostly you think about what it brought to the kids. Kids have gone through our roster and are now playing semi-pro hockey or have gotten scholarships at U.S. schools," he stated. Ryan van Stralen ended up being the captain of the Ottawa 67s, Tyson Wilson is playing semi-pro, Josh Pitt playing semi-pro, Jody Sullivan went off to university on a scholarship, Tyson Kirkby is off to a scholarship...those are the things you like to see, the things that you remember most through the times.
Even the kids that never played for the team have been touched by the force of junior hockey in Prescott.
"I can't lay claim to Ben Hutton," Harrison laughs. "He went directly from midget hockey right to Jr. A, but he texted us and thanked us for what we have done in the community."
And it is that community that means the most to the family who provided hockey action to eager fans for a decade.
"They are the best fans in hockey," Harrison says for the second time during the interview. "I want to thank the fans, our volunteers, the players, sponsors and our coaching staff for the support over the last ten years. They deserve the biggest thanks. We could have never done anything without all of them."