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Raising the Dead

graphic: Raising the Dead by Mandy James
Hockey’s future as an OCAA sport is at issue again. Darkness isn’t creeping across the land, but for some, the game’s witching hour is at hand.

By Jeff Lewis

Mike Lindsay has a simple approach to outfitting his teams. “Top notch coaching, top notch uniforms, nice facilities and a good, competitive schedule.”

It’s what the athletic director at Fanshawe College refers to as the “Cadillac version” of sports administration and, before OCAA hockey went belly-up in 2004, it was projected that it would have cost his department in excess of $100,000.

As far as hockey goes, Lindsay’s Caddy hasn’t seen the road since. But a bid to revive OCAA hockey as a tournament sport, similar to indoor soccer, badminton and curling, has Lindsay and others talking shop again.

“If there is a plan to bring it back we’d like to be able to start planning and putting aside money,” he says.

Having last coached hockey at Fanshawe when it folded in 1982, he’ll be watching with particular interest this April, when the OCAA executive committee convenes for its annual meeting. A tournament sport, he says, would cost a quarter of hockey’s price tag circa 2004.

"I have to cut                      
a program
to bring on
                a program.

Linda Turcotte
athletic director

“It’s a sound practice in our business,” he explains. “You tread lightly and you try certain approaches that aren’t that expensive.”

With its emphasis on regional play, a tournament league is seen by many as the only way to curb the onerous costs long associated with travel, coaching and ice rentals.

Blair Webster, executive director at the OCAA, says it’s more cost effective to travel and compete in two or three tournaments.

For Lindsay, reclaiming hockey as an official OCAA sport goes beyond dollars and cents. An untold perk, he says, is that sanctioned sports look good on a student’s resumé. “You don’t get that at the intramural level.”

To ask any athletic director why hockey folded in the first place is to hear the same refrain repeated. At Canadore College in North Bay, Linda Turcotte lays it on the line. “It did out-price itself,” the athletic director says. “That’s what happened.”

For Canadore, money is scarce. “I have to cut a program in order to bring on a program,” Turcotte says.

Her department currently funds an extramural package that includes one practice a week and five tournaments a year. “It’s affordable,” she says.

Should varsity hockey reappear in 2009-10, Canadore may be onboard, provided the new league resembles what’s currently in place at club level.

“I think I’ve got the resources to do it,” Turcotte says. “But keep it looking like the extramural level and expense.” Even that, she concedes, would require some “creative bookkeeping.”

A move toward tournament play is not without skeptics. “It would be a huge step backwards in a way, even though we’d be competing against other colleges,” says Jay Shewfelt, athletic co-ordinator at St. Clair.

Since 2006, the Saints have been chasing the Allan Cup in a senior men’s AAA league. While Shewfelt is quick to point out that sanctioned tournament play is a progressive step for the OCAA, it’s clear St. Clair will be competing elsewhere.

The NCAA recently announced a 10- year pilot project to allow international schools to apply for membership. St. Clair is among a handful of Canadian institutions vying for a chance to compete against Division 2 and 3 schools.

Wherever the puck drops in 2009-10, Shewfelt is unequivocal about the direction of his hockey program. “Division 2 in the States,” he says. “No questions asked.”

At Seneca College in Toronto, athletic director Linda Stapleton is reluctant to pursue the new bid. At issue, she says, is ensuring programs within her department are delivered on an even keel. “That to me is the most serious issue,” she says.

“Where do you get the money to make sure you have a coach, a therapist?”

Whatever the outcome in April, the road ahead for varsity hockey is paved with equal part misgiving and optimism. Turcotte remembers 1988, the last time OCAA women’s hockey went under.

“It disappeared,” she says. “When a sport disappears at the varsity level, it’s extremely hard to get it back again.”