Glenn Laycock hopes that some of the kids currently playing minor hockey in Thompson can have the same opportunity he did – to skate as a member of a junior hockey team in their hometown.
Laycock, who played two seasons for the Thompson King Miners of the Norman Junior Hockey League – including their final campaign in 1984-85 – before moving on to play for the Flin Flon Bombers, is part of a group of Thompson hockey fans trying to get a Manitoba Junior Hockey League team for the Nickel City – along with Keith Burak, Darcy Delyea, Art Lafreniere, Mike Krentz and a larger group behind the scenes. A meeting is being held at 7 p.m. next Wednesday at the Letkemann Theatre to gauge how much interest there is in their proposal because, as Laycock says, a huge part of the equation will be people power.
"We want to move forward with more people," says Laycock. "If we go to the next stage we're going to need lots of volunteers."
Which is not to say that money isn't important too. The policy of the MJHL requires a $150,000 fee from expansion teams, whose proposals must be approved by an overwhelming majority of the existing franchises.
"You can only have two rejections but if you get the rest of the teams you're good to go," says Laycock, who notes that the other option of buying and transferring a team – as a group from Thompson attempted to do with the St. James Canucks of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League about six years ago – still requires a payment of $50,000 to the league.
The Thompson group hopes to begin play the season after next if their proposal is approved.
"Our plan is for the 2013-14 season," Laycock said, which would require submission of the proposal by this October, along with a $5,000 deposit. "2013 seems like a long way away but it isn't when you're trying to organize an expansion team."
Even if the proposal fails, he says, it would put Thompson in a position to take advantage if an existing franchise came up for sale, even if he isn't optimistic about that happening.
"I would love someone to phone us and say here's what the team's worth," he said.
From his experience in Flin Flon, where the Bombers have an annual budget of about $550,000 per year – an amount that would likely be slightly higher for a Thompson-based team – Laycock says the keys to success are a good business plan, a strong volunteer base and support from the business community.
"For us to be sustainable we have to come in with a really good business plan," said Laycock. "We have to have that strong backing of volunteers. That's how Flin Flon's run."
Complicating matters is the fact that a group from Virden is also seeking a junior hockey team to be based in their community and Laycock knows that if it comes down to a choice between the two communities, the southern one will almost undoubtedly win out.
Backers of a Thompson junior hockey franchise also want to ensure that obtaining an MJHL team doesn't doom the midget AAA Norman Northstars, who have served as the pre-eminent competitive hockey club in Thompson for the more than 25 years that have passed since the Norman Junior Hockey League shut down.
"We kind of want to see both teams running side-by-side," he said, and partnering where they can, by sharing a team bus for example. "We just don't want to lose the Northstars."
But he knows a junior hockey team would dampen support for the midget squad.
"There's only so much corporate money," says Laycock. "The sad part is the junior team usually gets most of that."
The midget club would likely also see less revenue come in from paying spectators.
"Logic will tell you that the numbers for the Northstars are going to drop," Laycock says.
At the same time, however, having higher-level hockey can strengthen the sport overall in the surrounding area.
"I know that if you have junior hockey in your community it's better for minor hockey," Laycock says. "It makes your hockey better. The junior team is just another piece of the puzzle for this community."
The bottom line is that having an MJHL hockey time will create an even greater demand for volunteers at a time when the Northstars will also need more to compensate for having less revenue. In order to meet both these demands, it's imperative that the junior hockey club gets new people in the community involved.
"We need more people besides the five to go out in the community and do all this work," says Laycock. "Both groups need volunteers at this time. It needs to move forward with human resources. It's not good if we don't have people. The more people you have, the less people have to do."
Tapping into new volunteers can also lead to new approaches.
"The more people you get, some of the ideas are pretty interesting," Laycock says. "Sometimes your ideas are so stale if you're in the same place."
Those who are unable to make next Wednesday's meeting can still get involved by getting in touch with Laycock at 778-2166.
"Not everyone can get out," he said.
Looking ahead, Laycock knows it won't be a problem finding capable people in the North to run the hockey operations of a junior team.
"It's very easy to find the hockey side," he said. "You need people that are smart with the ideas of raising money."
Further down the road, Laycock sees a junior team creating opportunities for more northern players too continue their hockey careers, even if it's not as the stars.
"Northern kids are great role players," he says.
Laycock also knows that attendance at junior hockey games would skyrocket if a player from the area around Thompson found his way onto the roster.
"It would be packed," he said. "We'd have the outside communities that are in here and they would go to games and all of that."
When he hears updates of MJHL playoff games on the radio, Laycock imagines what he might be hearing in the future.
"That could be us," he says. "It could be Thompson they're talking about."