Trouble appears to be popping up across the junior hockey landscape in Manitoba. Lost behind news that the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard may no longer receive funding from the band council were some other rumblings within the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL). The Steelers have announced on Feb. 8 that they will be indeed staying in Selkrik, although they are not too happy with the support lately.
On Jan. 29, Darryl Wolski of the 2112 Hockey Agency tweeted that the Selkirk Steelers had filed papers to relocate to Beausejour for the 2017/18 season. Steelers GM Kevin Petrash quickly came out to squash those rumours, saying that the Steelers were there to stay and would continue to be involved with the community.
“I can definitely say there has been talk in the inner circles about moving the Steelers,” Petrash said when reached for comment. “The team is severely underappreciated by the local community. It’s very frustrating for the people running the hockey club.”
These comments are a far cry from those by Wolski, who mentioned that the city of Selkirk and the Steelers ownership group were “at war.” It doesn’t seem like the team has a problem with the city at all, but its fans.
“We’ve gone from an average of over 1,000 fans on a Friday evening in 2010 to a paltry 400,” Petrash said. “With these numbers the hockey club is simply unsustainable. It’s a very sad situation for a once proud junior A city, especially with it being the 50th anniversary season.”
Although community support is an issue for the team, Petrash continuously reiterated management and ownership’s commitment to Selkirk.
“We can only hope the locals wake up soon,” he said. “Or this will be a ‘you don’t know what you had until it’s gone’ story.”
When responding to the initial rumors online, Petrash mentioned that the team is doing everything they can to be visible in the community.
Petrash is correct about the work the Steelers have been doing, as the players – almost always with Steelers mascot “Beamer” in tow – have been fixtures at community events. On Feb. 3, Colby Dudek and Brady Castellano visited the St. Andrews Daycare as part of “I Love to Read” Month, and the day prior Taylor Fisher, Jake Dudar, and Braden Lozinski visited St. Andrews School for the same event.
The team will also be holding the 19th annual Hockey Night in Selkirk Dinner, hosted this year by NHL legend Ray Bourque. Tickets for the Feb. 21 event are currently on sale.
While Petrash has continuously preached that the Steelers will remain in Selkirk past the end of the 2016/17 season, Wolski has his doubts.
“I don’t know much more, but I do know the team is holding practices in Seven Oaks,” Wolski said. “Now the latest is the team will play home games in Gimli and Teulon next year.”
Those final comments could not be corroborated and Wolski did not share the source of his information.
If the team were to play in Gimli as Wolski mentioned, it would be a viable but temporary fix. Gimli is around an hour’s drive from Selkirk, but the community center is vastly smaller, closing in on a junior B arena in size. Gimili’s population of just fewer than 2,000 wouldn’t have the same ticket sales potential as Selkrik. Teulon would not be much better, with a population of just over 1,000.
The current home of the Steelers, the Selkirk Recreation Complex, opened in 1992 and has a capacity of 2,751. A much more intriguing option for the club, and is also home to the Keystone Junior Hockey League’s Selkirk Fishermen.
Founded 51 years ago in 1966, the Steelers have brought home 11 Turnbull Cups as MJHL champions. The Steelers currently sit third in the MJHL and will look to drum up more support with a long playoff run. Hopefully that and continued community involvement will be enough to turn the tides for the Steelers to stay in Selkirk long term.