Thursday, August 06th, 2009
Could the Navy Vets return to the ice?
For Woodstock hockey fans still longing for the return of the Navy Vets, it’s time to show them the money. Or at least buy a ticket. Either way, the campaign to resurrect the once proud junior hockey franchise hinges largely on community support over the coming weeks. Ticket sales for a pair of Navy Vets alumni games and Woodstock Renegades exhibition game Aug. 26 will give team owner Bill McLeod an indication of the community’s interest in returning the club to its roots.
“We’ve always kind of talked about bringing the Navy Vets back, ever since we changed to the Renegades,” he said. “ We never talked publicly about it because you gotta stick to the Renegades.”
After 40 years as the Navy Vets, McLeod was forced to change the team’s name to the Renegades before the 2007-08 season after the team accumulated close to $ 70,000 worth of debt by then-owner Steve Barber.
For a host of legal reasons, McLeod decided he couldn’t afford to assume liability should creditors start calling, which they did.
“It was kind of a safety issue from a financial standpoint,” he said. “It was costly to change from Navy Vets to Renegades (but) it was worth it.
“I had to invest a lot ($30,000) to become Renegades but it was a safe choice.”
There will be two alumni games Aug. 26 with players from four decades participating, followed by an exhibition game between the Renegades and Burford Bulldogs.
“At this point I’m kind of curious. At this point I think it’s been three tickets sold to save the Navy Vets,” McLeod said. “If we can sell 1,000 tickets to the game … I don’t think that’s a lot to ask in a community of 40,000 people. In an area of 100,000 it’s not that many. ”
While fans will have their say Aug. 26, the Oxford County Naval Veterans Association will have theirs Aug. 24. That’s when the group will hold its monthly committee meeting and discuss granting McLeod permission to return to the Navy Vets should the support be there.
“I really want to see where they sit,” McLeod said. “If they don’t want to do it then I won’t do that to them. You want their blessing.”
Navy Club president Rick D’Entremont said Wednesday a number of factors will go into any decision.
“It’s quite a tradition for the club,” he said. “As far as us being able to stop him from using the Navy Vet name that will have to be discussed at the meeting and maybe with the Navy Club lawyer.”
D’Entremont suggested there could be some lingering ill will that began with promises of grandeur from Barber when he ran the team in 2006-07 to the controversy surrounding McLeod’s name change the following year.
“ There’s a lot of bad feeling there,” D’Entremont said, “and there could be some issues whether there is a blessing from the Navy Vet club, but again that’s a Navy Club decision.”
McLeod has talked to several Navy Vets alumni in recent months and said they have expressed tremendous support for a change.
“If the city wants the Navy Vets back then I’m prepared to go through the change,” he said. “It could be as early as this year.”
If most of the 1,500 tickets are snapped up, McLeod said he will try to change the name before the puck drops in September. The club would use the Renegade jerseys but an anchor would replace the Renegade logo.
McLeod suggested 2010-2011 as another target to re-launch the Navy Vets. It will mark the Navy Club’s 100th anniversary and it’s possible the team could find itself in a new league thanks to the OHA Tomorrow’s Game realignment.
“The goal was to bring it back next season, use this year as a goodbye year for Renegades,” he said, “but if support is not there I’m not bringing it back without support.”
The team has already announced it will hold alumni nights each home game against Norwich this season. The Renegades — if they don’t change until next season — will wear Navy Vets practice jerseys as a throwback.
It would cost around $30,000 to return to the blue and white, but McLeod said the team’s financial situation is under control.
“We have minimal debt now and we’re carrying Renegades debt now,” he said. “ We’ll pay that before the season.”
Attendance has increased to almost 400 fans the last two seasons but it will take at least double that number Aug. 26 for McLeod to consider dropping anchor once again.
“I love the Renegades but I’m here for the city and the city is the Navy Vets,” he said. “I want to do that and the alumni want to do that. I want to make sure we don’t do it for no reason.”