Newmarket is no longer a Junior 'A' hockey town.
The Hurricanes Ontario Junior Hockey League franchise is moving to Milton with its new owner, following the team’s loss in the North Division playoffs to the Markham Royals Tuesday night, according to Eric Cella, former general manager and now hockey operations for the team.
The sale of the team was approved in February by the OJHL and Ontario Hockey Association, he added.
Owners Anthony Cella and Tony Comparelli, who bought the Hurricanes franchise in 2013, have sold the team to Jason Tryfon, a Halton-based entrepreneur.
The franchise has been renamed the Milton Menace.
It’s the end of a decades-long history with Newmarket, beginning in the 1970s as the Redmen, then as the Flyers, then as the 87’s — in 1987, as a Junior 'A' club — and in 1997, as the Hurricanes.
“Why? The short answer is because Newmarket doesn’t care about junior hockey,” Cella said. “We did everything we possibly could to build support for the team.”
Despite attempts to build awareness and fan support, the stands remained frustratingly sparse, he said, rarely more than a few hundred people.
“We had the lowest amount of fans out in the playoffs,” Cella added, which began with the Canes taking a 3-0 lead, only to lose the tied series in Game 7 in Markham.
The team worked hard to build community partnerships, including with the York-Simcoe Express 'AAA' hockey organization, Newmarket Minor Hockey Association and local schools.
“The Hurricanes believe in giving back to the community by participating in many events and supporting many charities within the community such as regular visits to schools, donations to many fundraisers and appearances in the Annual Santa Claus Parade and other charity events,” the team’s website states.
“We tried everything,” Cella said. “We ran this club to keep it in Newmarket, we felt we could turn it around.”
Lack of local media coverage didn’t help the situation, he added.
A recent effort to find families willing to billet players was even unsuccessful.
Cella said the owners intentionally tried to “keep the team local," signing players from area communities, including Aurora, Nobleton, Vaughan and Uxbridge.
“We still couldn’t get anyone to come and watch," he said.
As of July 1, the players will be free agents, Cella said.
And as disappointing as the demise of the Newmarket Hurricanes is, he said, many of the players are “excited for the possibilities” ahead.
“The players have mixed feelings. They loved playing for Newmarket and they enjoyed the way we treated them. But they have the ability to go where they want now. They can explore any opportunity with any league.”
“I want to thank the Newmarket Hurricanes volunteers, staff and team for their many years of dedication to Hockey in Newmarket,” Newmarket Mayor John Taylor told NewmarketToday.
“I was able to make it to a number of the games in the playoffs and it was fantastic hockey and a fun experience,” he said.
Taylor made a friendly playoff wager with Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, with the loser pledging to write a Facebook post about his favourite things about the winner’s town.
“I know our hockey community in Newmarket is strong and many of the Hurricane volunteers will continue to support this great sport in our town in other ways,” Taylor said. “Again, thanks to everyone involved for bringing quality hockey to our town for so many years and I look forward to working with the hockey community in Newmarket to keep the sport strong.”