Thursday 6 June 2013

When enough is finally enough

The Tommies hockey club has been rife with controversy for years.  So this latest setback of Troy Ryan resigning the coaching position at STU sort of falls into line with things from the past.  Sometimes it takes a look back in order to see clearly in the present. 

When St. Thomas was in Chatham the hockey program grew from a little seed to a big majestic tree that produced an Atlantic championship in 1961.  It was a big deal on the Miramichi and the legend of that team lives on to this day.  Shortly thereafter it was announced that the school would be moved to Fredericton.  This set off shock waves throughout the St. Thomas community and they lasted for 40 years or more.  The hockey team was not immune and coach Vance Toner and several of the players rejected the move outright and refused to follow the Tommies to their new home.  The hockey team suffered when they started playing in 1964-65 in their new city and more players had to be recruited.  Luckily the City of Fredericton opened their arms and their hearts to the new hockey team and soon fans could see a bright future looming. 

The Tommies won a tournament in early 1967 between U de M, MT. A and UNB.  It earned them the right to represent New Brunswick at the first Canada Winter Games in Quebec City. It was a huge accomplishment and it would help St. Thomas recruit some dandy players such as Gordon Wheaton, Scott Harvey, and Gary Marsh.  The Tommies looked to be inserting themselves back into the conversation again when it came to winning a championship.  St. Thomas would lose in the Atlantic University Hockey Conference finals to a powerhouse Saint Mary's team in the early 70's before things changed at the University (again) and recruiting of hockey players was no longer a priority.  It only took a few years and by the mid 1970's the Tommies were horrible.  St. Thomas scrapped their men’s hockey program.

STU took a four-year hiatus from competitive hockey.  To a segment of the population in Fredericton this was unacceptable.  A few hard working, dedicated individuals led by Professor Bill Spray pushed to have the team resurrected.  Their hard work was rewarded in 1979-80 when the St. Thomas Tommies were introduced back into the AUHC.  The builders (Hockey committee) knew that the team would be hard pressed for wins in the early days but they also knew that their hard work was worth it.  They also realized that the team needed the backing of the community and a network of supporters to help sustain their development. Thus the birth of The Friends of STU Hockey in the early 1980's.

The team slowly became competitive through the eighties under Larry Wood and started to take off under the guidance of former NHLer Al MacAdam.  MacAdam was a wizard when it came to using the human resources of the Friends group and the Tommies became Fredericton’s team.  When MacAdam left, the team switched to Derryl Smith.  Smith inherited a strong team with lots of talent but he distanced himself from the community and particularly from those people that had rebuilt the program from the ashes of the 70’s.  Smith won a championship in 2001 but was soon replaced in 2002 for reasons unknown to this writer.

Mike Eagles, a retired NHL player, took over the reigns of the men's hockey program in the 2002-2003 season and was named CIS coach of the year.  The following year the Tommies squeaked into the playoffs with a win on the last day of the season (2004), finished last (missing the playoffs) the year after (2005), before climbing back up to 5th place the year after that (2006).  STU remained in the mix for the next two years before faltering and missing the playoffs for the next three years.  Mike assumed the position of Athletic Director at STU in July of 2008 and the hockey team has never returned to the playoffs since.

Eagles relinquished the men's coaching job in February of 2011 at which time a comprehensive search was undertaken for a successor.  A "green and gold" ribbon panel was put together to find the right person to bring the Tommies back to prosperity.  Troy Ryan was named head coach in May of 2011 too much fan fare.  After two losing seasons and only 8 wins, Ryan resigned in May of 2013.  

So there you have it, a history lesson.

As an avid supporter of STU hockey (men's and women's) for the past 10 years I have gotten to know some great people.  I have also observed many things and will give you my opinions of what has recently happened in regard to the men's hockey program.  

I am no longer going to support the men's and women's hockey teams as I have in the past.  My time is more valuable now that I see that my contribution made little or no difference to STU administration.  The website and twitter account will be maintained by me but on my terms dictated by whenever the whim strikes me.  I am truly disappointed by the loss of Troy Ryan as coach of the Tommies and I will explain why.

In his short time as leader of the STU hockey team Troy took the time to reconnect to the grass roots of the program.  I believe he realized that getting support from the community was the keys to moving the program forward.  I also believe that STU administration wants complete control of hockey operations and only looks to the community as their ATM who should finance their decisions without having any input.  They know best and nobody else knows anything.  

While this may not be apparent to everyone, the Friends of STU Hockey are a community minded group of hockey people who's sole purpose is to promote the men's hockey program by supporting it in a host of ways. Let's remember something from the history lesson above, they gave their time and effort back when there was no team and brought it back.  None of the current STU administration was around to do the heavy lifting back in the day but they are completely prepared to exclude those that did and therein lays the rub.  Troy Ryan was inclusive.

For the first time in years the Friends group were given back "visitation" to their child.  Their opinions sought out and valued.  Listened to.  Troy tried to re-build bridges that had been burnt from the previous two coaches.  People who had given up on Fredericton's team were coming back, even if the team was still losing.  There was hope.  Troy didn't try to fool us, he told us what he thought.  I personally can say that I didn't like some of the stuff he said because I wanted a quick fix but he told us anyway.  Administration has done nothing but ignore us or ask for money, either by donation, by buying tickets, or buying advertising.

So I am sorry to the many viewers of this website, enough is enough for this Tommies fan.  Something has to change and according to Communication Director Jeffrey Carleton in yesterday's Daily Gleaner "there has been "absolutely no discussion here at St. Thomas to making any changes to the program.  Zero.""  So there you have it.  What change are you expecting to see for the hockey team with a mindset like that?  I think it is time to "clean the bus".