Saying a fond farewell to the Prescott Flyers and thanking the Harrison family
Prescott did not leave Junior B hockey. Junior B hockey left Prescott.
Some may say this is just splitting hairs. And there is some truth in this. At the end of the day the Prescott Flyers have left the Fort Town. The Central Canadian Hockey League 2 (CCHL2) club has been sold to the Pembroke Lumber Kings and will be calling the village of Cobden home for the 2017-2018 season.
Still, making this distinction is very important to me. And, I suspect, very important to former team owner Kevin Harrison, as well.
As Kevin makes very clear in this newspaper today, he did not want to sell the Flyers. Anyone who knows him knows that this is the truth. He made one dream come true when he bought the South Grenville Rangers Junior B franchise a decade ago, and he then fulfilled another going back to when he played for the late, great Prescott Saints/Falcons in the 1980s and moved his new club from Cardinal back to Prescott.
But Kevin wasn't given any choice when it came to giving up his dream. He was betrayed by a cabal of Ottawa-based hockey executives who ruined the Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey League by turning it into a money- and development-focused feeder system for Junior A two years ago. Costs soared, for both the players and the team owners. And the focus shifted to something that Junior B has never been here in Eastern Ontario.
Gone was the focus on local kids being able to play out their careers on their hometown teams. Gone were the age-old friendly (well, not always friendly in the playoffs, but the respect was always there) rivalries pitting Prescott against regional foes in Brockville, Athens, Westport, and Gananoque. Gone were the connections that made these Junior B clubs such integral parts of our communities, tying towns to teams in vital ways that made us care and kept the stands full.
And now it's over. While some remnants of the league continue as the CCHL2--including the Athens Aeros, who are in the middle of a fantastic playoff run with former Prescott Flyers' Gill Cup-winning coach Andrew Dickson behind the bench--nothing is the same. The local feel that made Junior B hockey something to call our own across rural and small urban Eastern Ontario has vanished, due to the league's new centre of gravity in Ottawa, the elimination of overage players, and the money-money-money focus that can see players paying as much as $4,500 per year for a roster slot.
So all we have to hold on to here in Prescott are memories. But at least they include some great ones centred around our Gill Cup win in 2015 (fittingly, we brought the cup back home to Prescott during the last season that it was awarded). That team exemplified the very best of what real Junior B hockey was once all about here, rallying the entire community and packing the Leo through much of the season and the playoffs.
All of Prescott was part of that epic run. I barely missed a game that year, and followed the team on the road through the playoffs. I'll never forget how touched I was when Coach Dickson hugged me by the bench right after eliminating the Brockville Tikis to claim the Gill Cup, or how our leading sniper Brandon Gilmour brought the cup over to me on the ice during the celebrations so I could hold it, too.
So as sad as it is to know that the Prescott Flyers will not be returning to the Leo next fall, I have to adopt something of a "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" philosophy. We had a great run, all thanks to Kevin Harrison's vision, along with the incredible dedication and assistance of his wife Mia, mother Janice, and pretty much every other member of his extended family.
All of Prescott owes the Harrisons and everyone who put on a Prescott Flyers sweater a debt of gratitude today. Thanks for all your hard work and all that you meant to our entire Fort Town community. And at least we'll always have 2015.