When I first heard the news, I was as shocked as any other hockey fan in town. Sure, I’ve only been here for two hockey seasons, now embarking on my third, but the Fort St. John Senior Flyers are a team I grew to appreciate and admire, and word they would not play in the NHPL this year was surprising and disappointing.
Surprising because, while having a lack of players able to commit to 20 games a year for no pay, on top of work (not to mention the risk of injury, which could lead to more work time lost) isn’t the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of, nobody saw it coming.
The team struggled to have a consistent buy-in from its players last year and couldn’t always field a full team on the road, but they were still pretty good and almost won the Coy Cup on home ice. The Flyers’ steady executive didn’t see this coming, so I didn’t either. Plus, I never really knew that not playing was an option.
I’ve since learned that the Flyers didn’t ice a team from 1996 until the 2004-05 season. Knowing how good and how beloved the Flyers were these last two years, it’s hard to imagine a time when interest to play for them died out. What did people do up here on a cold Friday night?
But, these things happen. Successful teams, bands, groups, and businesses all come and go, even hockey teams in a hockey-crazed town. Fort St. John isn’t immune to this — the Dawson Creek Senior Canucks were gone for a number of seasons at the beginning of the decade, and the Spirit River Rangers folded after winning five straight NPHL titles. But now, the Canucks have been the best team for the last two years and seem poised to make another run this year.
It’s not worth blaming anyone, but it’s disappointing all the same. The fact that committing and running a non-profit senior hockey team is hard work and seems unpractical in 2019 is what continues to make the Flyers, the NPHL, and senior hockey so cool and great.
I loved playing sports in high school and I love playing sports now, although ones that require slightly less athleticism than when I was the MVP of the Two Hills Junior High Basketball Tournament in 2003. The amount of curling, bowling, and slow pitch I play isn’t anything special. I’m not even sure I’m good. If you told me I could play in a super-competitive slow pitch league that required overnight commitment and practice, but that the stakes wouldn’t exactly increase — I’m not sure what I’d say.
It would be cool, especially if that slow pitch team had been around for 60 years, but I also like the option to occasionally stay home if the Raptors are playing in the NBA finals, or if I need to catch up on Big Brother.
No, even if I was good enough a hockey player, I don’t think I’d be able to set aside the time and commit to the Fort St. John Flyers either. However, for the better part of 60 years, many people in Fort St. John were, and did.
These days, most competitive hockey consists of players who are either trying to get better and advance, or are compensated, regardless of how much money. That’s not the case for senior hockey players in the Peace region, but they played anyway, and will again.
Nothing is guaranteed, and the team could be in this situation for years to come, but I like to think maybe there’s a kid here in town who spent the last four years going to games with his dad. When he grows up, and decides he wants to stick around in Fort St. John, just maybe he’ll wish there was a men’s hockey team he could suit up for. Maybe, he’ll want to don the Maple Leafs — I mean, Flyers’ blue, and give this town a team to watch on a cold Friday night.
Huskies head coach Todd Alexander was nostalgic as he told me how he and his brother played for the Flyers, and how his uncle played for the Flyers, and his dad, and even his grandpa. He had hoped his son would be able to play for the team someday, and maybe he will.
Regardless of what’s to come, the spirit of the Flyers didn’t die before, and it certainly won’t die now.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.