One of the longest-serving members of the Neepawa Natives Hockey Club has made the tough decision to part ways with the team. General Manager Myles Cathcart tenured his resignation last week, just hours after the hockey club implemented a new “travel fee” for their players.
“I have been with the club around 20 years directly involved whether it was playing, General Manager, Director of Hockey Operations, trainer, bus driver, Asst. Coach, and board member,” said Cathcart. “It was an extremely difficult decision to step away. My family was at the ground level of this team, and the team is an important part of the community.”
The Natives, a community-owned team, run an annual budget of around $400,000, a number that increases every year. Club President Ken Waddell and the board of governors have decided to charge players a monthly travel fee of $267.00 to help cover bus costs, road meals, and hotel accommodation.
“We realize this will impact players and families, but many Canadian junior teams charge a fee, and the board feels a transportation fee is the fairest to all concerned,” said Waddell in a press release.
Many in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League are left wondering if this is a model that can work. For Cathcart, the decision was something he didn’t agree with.
“The fee was the major reason for leaving. I do think playing junior hockey is a privilege and a level above AAA in terms of financial commitment from parents. Other teams in Canada and within our league do charge a fee, but every market has a different story,” he added. “It needs to be creative if implemented and there needs to be time to implement the plan. We all know junior hockey teams struggle with the financial side of things, it is not a secret.”
In Saskatchewan, rumors are swirling that the Kindersley Klippers could be the next team to implement a “Pay to Play” model. Teams in the MJHL and SJHL draft bantam-aged players every year, and recruit from all over the prairies meaning kids don’t necessarily have a choice of where they play. An added fee could mean all the difference in whether a player can commit to the team or not.
“We have developed relationships with the players and families for many years since they were 15 when drafted. Players coming from other non-paying leagues may not report and pay the fee, said Cathcart. “It does make things more complicated and challenging from a recruitment perspective.”
Despite the quick departure from the team he has helped build, the Neepawa school teacher has no hard feelings towards the club he’s grown up with.
“We have worked really hard, re-branding the team, re-creating the image of the team. Byron Billett was here right from the start by my side, and we kept the vision alive. It was not a "perceived" pleasant place for a long time but with hard work, dedication and perseverance we ended up on the other side,” he added. “We have moved a lot of players to the next level and provided a positive junior hockey experience. We have helped boys leave as men, so that is very positive. A lot of people from the league, former players and families, have reached out to thank me for my time with the team. It is nice to hear a difference was made.”