Pond hockey officials end six year run
November 28, 2012
HUNTSVILLE - The ice on Sunset Bay will remain untouched this winter for the second straight year.
Last year, the annual Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships, which had operated in town since 2006, were cancelled due to poor weather conditions that didn’t allow the water to freeze for the creation of the ice rinks.
Now, according to the event’s executive director Neil Lumsden, the 2013 championships will be played in Haliburton County. He said due to financial reasons organizers are forced to take the two-weekend event elsewhere.
The annual tournament brings in more than 1,700 players on more than 260 teams during the course of the two weekends.
During the peak of its popularity, the event garnered national attention, including a one-hour special on TSN in 2007 and two visits from Canada’s most famous hockey dad, Walter Gretzky.
Lumsden said one reason for moving out of town was that Deerhurst Resort representatives wanted changes to the existing agreement with pond hockey officials; changes he said would not work for his group.
“It’s like any deal, you have to make sure that it’s good for both sides, and Deerhurst wanted to make some adjustments to the contract we had,” according to Lumsden, who wouldn’t disclose the conditions. “The way the changes were proposed … it wasn’t going to be good for us and we had to make a decision.”
However, a representative with the Skyline Corporation, owners of the resort, denied that their officials requested any changes to the Canadian Pond Hockey Championship agreement.
“We were simply trying to get back to the terms originally negotiated in 2006,” said Kate Hillyar, the company’s director of communications and media relations. “Over the years, Deerhurst’s involvement in the tournament has gone over and above the terms set out in the original agreement.”
She said that Deerhurst has made every effort to ensure the success of the tournament for the past six years and that it was unfortunate that the resort would not be able to host any future championships.
“It has always been a highly-anticipated and fun series for our guests and colleagues, and a great draw for the Town of Huntsville. Ultimately, we have to protect our business and decisions that are going to support the overall success of the resort,” Hillyar said.
Lumsden also said that the town’s denial for a request of $18,000 in financial support for the championships also played a part in the decision to move the event.
“The first is that we were going to use part of that to prepare the rinks (on Sunset Bay), which was something that Deerhurst did for all those years. That ($18,000) was part of the difference, but they said they weren’t going to do that anymore. Having just heard that (the town) committed in a proposal form to pay 20 grand a year for five years to bring in the Ironman Canada event, I thought it would be more than fair to approach them and say, ‘We had been here six years, and drive a lot to the community. How about looking at us that same way you looked at the triathlon.’ That was turned down.”
Huntsville mayor Claude Doughty pointed out that the $100,000 committed by the town to bringing the triathlon here was to assist TriMuskoka, a not-for-profit, where Lumsden’s company, Drive Marketing, operates the pond hockey championship, and the event for-profit.
“We typically don’t fund for-profit operations. He has had the benefit of Huntsville volunteers for years helping out and in consideration of that he did make some contributions to the community, like the skating pond on Cann Lake. At the end of the day, he made more money because of (the volunteers).”
Rumours have surfaced that the monetary request from the town was to offset some financial shortfalls that resulted from the cancellation of the 2012 championships, something Lumsden vehemently denies.
“That is wrong, absolutely wrong. During the six years, Deerhurst took on the responsibility of prepping the rinks and working with us on the maintenance. That was no longer going to be available to us. We needed to find a way to offset a cost that we never had to incur before,” he said.
While many of the teams for the two weekends came primarily from eastern Canada, the tournament also attracted teams from south of the border, and some squads included former professional players.
Along with the players and guests came economic impact for the resort and the town.
According to a 2007 report that was created by the town’s event tourism subcommittee entitled “Marketing Huntsville and Lake of Bays,” information provided from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism estimates that the average sport event visitor and athlete spends between $150 to $300 per day in the community.
Based on projections that if the tournament attracted in excess of 1,500 players and visitors over the course of the two weekends, the economic loss to Huntsville could be in the range of $225,000 to $450,000, if the player/visitor was to stay two of the three-day weekend.
If these figures are correct, Huntsville may have received anywhere from $1.35 to $2.7 million over the course of the six years the event was held here.
“We always heard from some local establishments that it doesn’t drive that much business here, and there didn’t seem to be an acceptance that it was good for the community,” Lumsden said. “Whether they felt that because it was always at Deerhurst and some people locked themselves away, that wasn’t always the case. People stayed at other motels and hotels in town and motel operators said they loved having the event here. I know there was a significant impact other than just Deerhurst.”
Huntsville mayor Claude Doughty, while he doesn’t disagree with the figures, did say that he estimates the recent Girlfriends’ Getaway Weekend had a bigger economic impact on the town proper than the entire run of the hockey championships.
“It has a much greater economic benefit to Huntsville than the pond hockey championship. The pond hockey was largely confined to the Deerhurst property. I would suggest that the getaway weekend this year was bigger than ($1.35 million) in one year.”
He also said attracting a national triathlon championship to town is a “significantly different item than a pond hockey event at Deerhurst.”
When asked if he could ever see the event coming back to Huntsville, Lumsden wouldn’t answer the question, saying that right now he is focusing his efforts on the 2013 championships and its new location.
“I haven’t even considered it because where we are going have opened up their arms and have told us they would love to (see us) come there. We are moving forward. We are finalizing the deal. At this point I am looking forward to working with these new people who see the value in what we do.”
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