By Kevin Werner, News Staff
After nearly 40 years of playing in Stoney Creek, the junior B Warriors hockey team will be suiting up next season in Ancaster.
The Ontario Hockey Association recently granted Stoney Creek Warriors owner Ron Van Kleef to relocate the team to Ancaster’s Morgan Firestone Twin Pad Arena for the 2013-14 season.
“It has been over 20 years since a junior hockey team has played out of Ancaster and now with the Ontario Hockey Association approval we are thrilled to bring the excitement of junior hockey back,” stated Van Kleef in a letter to council.
Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson was ecstatic with the relocation. He said Van Kleef’s decision to move the team has been in the works for months.
Van Kleef, aDundas resident, who has owned the Warriors since 2008, saw first hand the support for hockey from the Ancaster community when the OHL’s Erie Otters held their practice at Morgan Firestone last August. The Otters last year were in discussions withErieabout their arena, which was undergoing renovations, and there was some suggestion the team was interested in moving to another location. They had contacted Hamilton city officials.
The Otters’ time in Ancaster proved successful for both the team, and the community, as they helped to raise money for some local charities.
There was a sellout crowd on hand when the Otters held an exhibition game against the Niagara Ice Dogs. Then the Junior C Blues, which Van Kleef also owns, held a regular season game at Morgan Firestone last December. The event, which the Blues lost, also proved a hit with the community drawing a sell-out crowd.Ferguson said Van Kleef was impressed with the facilities and the turnout, compared to Stoney Creek’s Valley Park Arena where the Warriors play out, with less than capacity crowds.
“I’m very supportive of the move,” said Ferguson. “It’s great for Ancaster and for the hockey community.”
Van Kleef did not return a call for comment.
The city recently completed a $10.3 million renovation of Morgan Firestone that created new twin-pad arena, with an NHL-size ice surface, new lighting, and improved dressing rooms.
“(The owners) liked the layout,” saidFerguson.
Van Kleef stated he has talked with Ancaster Minor Hockey Association officials about possible partnerships with the team.
“The revival of junior hockey in Ancaster will lead to new young minor hockey players having the dream of playing junior hockey for the team they grew up watching,” stated Van Kleef.
Van Kleef is seeking from the city ice times for the new season, whichFerguson says should not be difficult to accommodate.
“It’s not a showstopper,” saidFerguson.
The relocation of the Warriors will leave Stoney Creekwithout a high-level hockey team since 1974. The Warriors was first formed to play in the Niagara and District Junior C Hockey League. They moved up to the Golden Horseshoe Junior B league in 1989. Over the next 10 years the team had a rough time. First in 1993 the team changed its name from the Warriors to the Spirit. The team also endured front office changes and a series of controversies until in the early 2000s a shakeup lead to new management and owner. In 2001, the team reclaimed the Warrior name.
The team finally emerged as a successful club, winning the Golden Horseshoe Conference in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, for the first time, the team was in the finals of the Sutherland Cup, losing to the Brantford Eagles four games to one. The last two years the team has finished sixth in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, losing in the quarterfinals.
This past season the Warriors lost in the quarterfinals against the Welland Canadiens four games to one, with all but one of the games close.