Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Taking a tour downeast

It’s an idea whose time may have come. A group in Nova Scotia has come up with the idea of creating a pre-season circuit for the NHL. Patterned after the Grapefruit League of Florida or the Cactus league of Arizona, NHL teams would set up camp in the small maritime communities and work out the off season stiffness while enjoying some good old down home hospitality.

The Southwest Shore Development Authority building on its success with the New York Islanders hopes to bring seven more NHL franchises to the Maritimes for next year, developing something they suggest could be called the Bluenose League.

It’s an idea that would no doubt catch on in the hockey mad Maritimes which boasts of a number of Junior A teams in the Quebec Junior League.

No doubt the idea is to have fans of the participating teams perhaps making a weekend trip to the East Coast to check up on the progress of their favourite NHL squad, which probably means that the target areas will be the Atlantic Northeast and Ontario.

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald had full details in its pages today. Which we provide below.

Southwest explores NHL exhibition League
Yarmouth Bureau
Halifax Chronicle Herald
August 30, 2006

YARMOUTH — Pro baseball has the Grapefruit League, Florida’s famous spring training destination, so why can’t the Maritimes have something similar for professional hockey? Perhaps something called the Bluenose League, the Southwest Shore Development Authority has suggested.

The New York Islanders will land their chartered jet in Yarmouth next month for the second year of a three-year fall training camp contract.

Now the people who worked to bring a very successful 2005 Islanders training camp to Yarmouth are working to put a league of their own together.

Under the plan, eight NHL teams would bring their fall camps to various Maritime towns or small cities, said Frank Anderson of the development authority.

The training camps would end in a pre-season exhibition series in Halifax over a few days.
"It’s not that far-fetched," Anderson said. "If Florida can do it with baseball, why can’t we do it with hockey?"

The development authority has hired former Halifax Mooseheads president Kevin Cameron to work with the agency to bring what Anderson calls the Bluenose League to fruition.

"We’re hoping for 2007 to have three of these teams on the ground," said Anderson.

That’s because three NHL teams have already been in touch with the development authority, and the Islanders would be back, making four teams.

Corporate sponsors are also a help and more are becoming interested in the concept.
"They see value with being associated with this," said Anderson.

Some of the Islanders fan base is also expected to begin coming to Yarmouth and ultimately Halifax, organizers hope.

"Their booster club has already contacted us," said Dave Whiting of the development authority. He works on the logistics of bringing the Islanders training camp together.

The Islanders loved training in Yarmouth last year, coming from a previous training centre in West Virginia, he said.

Anderson said he’s confident the Islanders will return to Yarmouth every September for many years to come.

The Southwest Shore Development Agency is also confident seven more NHL teams will establish annual training camps in other Maritime centres, he said.

Campbellton, Truro and Amherst are interested, said Anderson, and the list is growing.
The Islanders arrive in Yarmouth on Sept. 14 and will fly out of Halifax 10 days later.

Fifty-two players will make up the largest part of the 88-person contingent, said Whiting.
Both ice surfaces of the Yarmouth Mariners Centre will be used.

Morning practices from 8 a.m. to noon will be open to the public for $10 per person.

Tickets for intra-squad games Sept. 17 and 19, and games against St. F.X. and Acadia University squads Sept. 21 and 23, will sell for $25 each or all four for $75.

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