Wednesday, September 1st, 2010


Simcoe Storm GM new Navy Vets main sponsor


The Simcoe Storm are making big changes with their roster this season, but it was a transaction between the team president and the Woodstock Navy Vets that has grabbed the attention of hockey circles.

Rumours began to swirl this off - season about the state and future of both clubs.

On Tuesday, Simcoe Storm president and GM Darren DeDobbelaer cleared the air.

"I have 12 offices and I am a supporter of kids and minor sports. I sponsor the Simcoe Storm, I do not own the Simcoe Storm. The Simcoe Storm is a community-based team," he began.

"Woodstock was going to have to fold this year because they can't pay their ice bill, similar to the situation in Simcoe when I arrived on the scene. What I've done is I've decided to pay off their ice bill and sponsor the Woodstock team.

"I'm the Simcoe Storm president and GM. I also sponsor Woodstock, Paris (Mounties), and Delhi (Travellers). Nothing is unusual."

The transfer of funds was approved by the OHA, but not without some rebuttal from other teams within the league, namely, DeDobbelaer said, the Norwich Merchants.

"My competitors down the 59 highway are trying to cause trouble, and when I say the 59 highway, I'm not meaning Woodstock," he said.

"They're afraid I'm going to take two teams, stack 'em up and beat (Norwich) out. I'm a businessman, hockey is my passion that I sponsor. I sponsor soccer teams, I sponsor baseball teams -- nothing's different."


The OHA approved the sponsorship of the Navy Vets on a number of conditions. The first condition is DeDobbelaer may not hold any official administrative position with the Navy Vets.

The second is that no players other than Alex Gegney and Craig Thomson from Woodstock -- who were signed by Simcoe this off-season before DeDobbelaer's sponsorship of the Navy Vets -- may be moved between the teams this season. The only exception of that player movement clause is Simcoe forward Jordan Paton, who was assured by DeDobbelaer while signing with Simcoe three years ago that the Woodstock native could return to play for his hometown team at any time.

"They just wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to carry two halves and run two teams," DeDobbelaer explained. "They didn't want player movement and, if at the deadline ... I'm moving six players from Simcoe to Woodstock or six players from Woodstock to Simcoe, I can't do that.

"Because of the grief that some of the teams in the league caused over this, I signed a letter with the OHA that there be no player movement at all."


DeDobbelaer will be hands-off in Woodstock where Jeff Morrison is the head honcho.

Morrison is director of hockey operations, general manager and coach of the team this season. He says DeDobbelaer's support is the only reason why he came on board.

"Darren approached me when he was in a position to be the major sponsor because he wanted to have someone he could feel most comfortable with," Morrison said.

Morrison said the OHA's written agreement has put to rest most, but not all, of the fears other clubs in the Niagara Junior C loop felt.

"The only real flack we got was from Norwich. The other teams . . . had questions, but once those were answered, that was the end of it."

Norwich officials could not be reached as of press time.

DeDobbelaer said he understands the concerns from the OHA and other teams within the league, but the situation is common practice at other levels of sport.

"(Eugene) Melnyk in the OHL owned the St. Michaels Majors and the Mississauga Ice Dogs," he noted. "They just put parameters in. I'm the second largest independent brokerage in Ontario, and I can only sponsor one team? The sport that I love the most? I understand the other teams' concern, but I addressed them all."


One issue that has dogged the Simcoe club in recent years is declining attendance and sponsorship money. Despite icing a contender year after year, the Storm haven't been able to put butts in the seats.

"I've lost sponsorship this year -- I've lost program sponsors, I've lost sweater sponsors, I went wire-to- wire in first place (last season) and my attendance goes down," said DeDobbelaer.

"I have eight Norfolk County boys signed this year, which is what the community wanted. I expect attendance to be up. If attendance is down again, what more do I have to do?"

At $40, Simcoe's season ticket price is significantly less than most junior teams in the area, and DeDobbelaer said the declining incoming funds could put the team in jeopardy.

"We've finished first three out of five years and brought Simcoe their only Niagara Championship ever, and attendance drops and I lose sponsors ever year? Times are tough and it's a struggle everywhere, that doesn't mean I have to be the only one to keep losing money," said DeDobbelaer.

"I need the businesses in Simcoe -- and there's a lot of businesses that are more successful than the business I run -- to rally around and keep junior hockey in Simcoe."

The Storm president and GM said with several local faces on the roster, he expects attendance to improve. If it doesn't, the club could be facing extinction.

"I'm not asking for people to start cutting cheques for a thousand bucks, but come to one game a year, pay seven bucks," he said "Just do something to keep hockey in Simcoe.

Like Langton, like Belmont, like Tillsonburg, you lose it (and) it's gone. You never get it back."