Team owner hints big changes are coming for next season
There were plenty of smiles and a few sighs of relief amongst Hamilton Red Wings players following their 5-2 home ice loss to the North York Rangers on Monday night.
The worst season in team history was finally over.
“We were really optimistic at the beginning of the year, we felt we had all the players,” said Liam Bird, one of only three Red Wings’ players from Hamilton. “But at the end of the day we didn’t stick to a system and everything fell apart, guys started leaving and towards the end of it guys were showing up five minutes before the game started.”
The Red Wings lost their final 25 games in a row and finished the season with five wins and 50 losses, well short of a playoff birth and those 50 losses are the second most in recent league history.
Bird noted things got so bad that during the final weeks of the season, players were beginning to dread game days.
“The game days toward the end were getting pretty painful to come to for sure,” he said.
Attendance at Red Wings games has also been dwindling over the last few years.
About 100 spectators were on hand for Monday night’s game.
Red Wings head coach Scott Elliott, who replaced Dan Cameron in December, said he’s grateful his players no longer have to put up with the adversity they’ve been facing since October and despite the mounting losses, he never gave up on his troops or stopped preparing them or himself for each game.
On a positive note, Elliott sees the season as a character builder for the players.
“They’ll remember this season 10-15 years down the road,” Elliott said. “They’ll remember it was a terrible season, but it’s going to make them stronger and if it makes them stronger and if they pick a life lesson out of this about character or work ethic, I’ve done my job.”
Red Wings owner Stu Hyman hinted that some big changes are being planned for next season, including a move to recruit more local talent.
“I think people will be very happy with some of the improvements we’ll have to the team next season,” said Hyman, who noted the annual process of evaluating the coaching staff and players for next season, has begun.
Hyman said he’s not really sure why the team moved toward acquiring most of its players from the Greater Toronto Area over the past few seasons other than Hamilton area teens have chosen to play at the local junior B or C level or for other teams in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
He also adamantly denies he is hanging on to the Red Wings to give his children a place to play junior A hockey.
“My kids could play anywhere,” Hyman said. “I never tell the coaches how to play my kids.”
Hyman, who has seen three of his sons play for the Red Wings and has two more sons age 14 and 10 playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, said he plans to keep the franchise in Hamilton and remain the owner for many years to come.
“I’m going to back it financially and put what ever resources I have to put into the team to ensure that we have exceptional coaching and (players),” said Hyman, who figures he spent well over $200,000 on the team this season.
Hyman added he would like to purchase a local junior B or C team that would act as a feeder club for the Red Wings.
A return to the days of having mostly Hamilton area players on the Red Wings’ roster would be welcomed by some of the minor hockey organizations in the city.
Tina Cipriette, president of the Hamilton Junior Bulldogs , said the Red Wings have not been keen on recruiting local talent in recent years.
“This team is known to all the hockey world as taking Toronto players,” said Cipriette, who noted Bird and Jason O’Connor were the only two graduates of the Bulldogs organization on the Red Wings’ roster this season. “It’s embarrassing really, isn’t it?”
Braxton Andrews, a defenceman from Dundas, was the only other local player.
Cipriette also suspects the revolving door on the team’s dressing room over the past few seasons has made local players and parents leery of getting involved with the Red Wings.
“I’ve heard parents talk about that,” said Cipriette.
She added many of their midget players have been opting to play junior B hockey with the Stoney Creek Warriors or seek a roster spot with a Provincial Junior A team other than Hamilton.
Cipriette said the Bulldogs have a good relationship with the Warriors organization.
She noted when Elliott resumed the Red Wings’ head-coaching job he began using Bulldogs midget players as call-ups to fill in for ill and injured players and she’s hoping some of those call-ups will become regulars with the Hamilton club next season.
Red Wings captain Spencer Hyman and his brother Oliver, along with forwards Troy Crema and Chris Micallef and defencemen Nick Porikos and Denis Fontyn will not return to the Red Wings next season.
Spencer Hyman has a partial hockey scholarship to the University of Michigan and Crema has committed to playing hockey at Dartmouth College.
Oliver Hyman is expected to begin business studies at McMaster University in September and will not play hockey while the other players have reached the league’s age limit.