By CHARLES TWEED
There was a time when you could walk into the Rimbey Arena and know it would be rocking.
A proud junior B franchise, the Rock filled the rink and the win column, making appearances in the league final.
Times have changed.
On Jan. 28, Rimbey was supposed to play Blackfalds at home, but couldn’t ice enough players, resulting in a forfeit.
Subsequently the league looked at the team and decided to suspend Rock operations for the rest of the 2011 season.
“We have, in our rules and regulations, stipulations on minimum number of hockey players, the fact they forfeited a game and we were concerned about competitiveness. In all three of these areas, Rimbey dropped the ball,” said Gerry Arnusch, president of the Heritage Junior B league.
The team had played 26 matches of the 36-game schedule, but the forfeit and the suspension to head coach Darren May because of problems with a player the club thought was affiliated, were too much for the league to ignore.
“We were trying to keep the team going, it’s hard to keep interest when you’re losing by football scores,” Arnusch explained. “But the final straw was an error with an affiliated hockey player, who they thought was affiliated but wasn’t, and that’s a Hockey Alberta matter and they suspended the coach for three games, and it kind of fell apart then.”
Rick Pankiw, general manager of the Rock, was part of the group that brought junior hockey to Rimbey. Pankiw wanted to make clear the reason for the suspension had nothing to do with finances, as the team was still in the black, but instead focused around commitment.
“It takes a lot of time and commitment to run a team. I know Brenda (Lewis — Rock president) and Darren (May — Rock coach) have put in a lot of work to keep the team going, but there wasn’t enough commitment from players and the league told the team they are done for the year,” said Pankiw.
The team is now weighing their options for the future of junior hockey and the Rock in Rimbey.
“It had nothing to do with finances and if the team wants to continue we will have until May to put forth a proposal to put a team on the ice next year.”
The Rock will hold its annual general meeting in April, a month ahead of the league’s annual meeting in May. Rock executive will listen to proposals and discuss their options. Entering a team in the league next year or taking a full year’s absence are possibilities.
It won’t be as simple as just picking up and playing again next year.
“The executive in Rimbey will have to convince the league’s directors, who vote on which applications should be accepted and which shouldn’t, that they are a viable team. The team will be scrutinized and it’s a fact that it’s tough on the smaller towns. But there was a time there where Rimbey was really rocking, and it can be done but it’s not easy,” said Arnusch.