YORKTON - The playoffs are, much like the start of a new season, is a time for optimism.
For the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League the recent playoff run has a double reason for hoping for a better season when they return to ice in the fall.
While the team ended up being swept in their semi-final series with Estevan, the results were frankly better than most would have expected at the start of the season.
Terrier head coach and GM Mat Hehr said after the Bruins completed the sweep Thursday he had told his board it was likely to be a rebuild year, and a playoff spot would be a bonus. Through the year he focused on youth looking to 18 and 19-year-old players that could be back next season, but the team jelled, and a semi-final berth was a bonus.
And while Estevan won in four the Bruins have been focused on hosting this year’s national championship, so were a veteran squad build to win, and they are now in the league final where most had them favoured to be all season.
Already looking ahead to next season Hehr said he expects a defensively sound squad with some talented young players already signed to come which has him thinking anything short of a return to the semi-finals would be a disappointment.
That’s good news, and is more than a coach putting a positive spin on a sweep, when you consider netminder Kael DePape should be back in the fall, and he was a stalwart responsible for anchoring the Terriers this season.
But, the question is, will enough local hockey fans care if the team is playing well to turn out to games?
The Terriers have found it a struggle in recent years to turn a profit, a situation which predates the COVID pandemic.
In fact, grants available through COVID actually helped out the team back in a far stronger financial position than they were before the pandemic shutdown the SJHL.
The problem though is that crowds this year were generally rather thin.
Six homes games through the month of February saw an average of only 469 fans according to numbers posted at sjhl.ca
Sub 500 crowds make it difficult for a Junior team to stay in the black these days, and the situation is likely to get worse.
The cost of fuel has to be passed on the teams if charter bus services are to survive and restaurant food is inching up too. It just means the cost of operating a Junior hockey club is going to rise.
There was however, a silver lining of sorts in the playoffs. The Terriers saw crowds of 1,263 and 1,211 for Games 3 and 4 of their series with Estevan.
So some 750 fans who didn’t generally attend games in February when the Terriers were playing their way into playoff contention, were will to spend $15 for a ticket to watch them in April.
There is a larger fan base, if the Terrier Board can just convince all the playoff fans to attend games in December and January and February. If they can’t attract those fans to far more games through the regular season, how to operate in the black becomes and increasingly difficult challenge.