Outgoing Fergus Devils general manager Brian Morrison is confident new ownership means the future of junior hockey in the town is secure.
“The club’s in pretty good shape,” Morrison said on May 11, prior to the announcement that the Junior C hockey club has been purchased by Toronto businessman David Arsenault.
Before Arsenault got involved, Morrison told the Advertiser, the team’s dozen or so directors were uncertain if the Devils would operate for the 2010-11 season.
“It was just too much work,” for the relatively small group of volunteers, he said. The directors discussed three potential new owners, but eventually voted unanimously to accept Arsenault’s offer.
Morrison, who has been general manager of the team for over a decade, will be stepping down this season but he will stay on to help the team through the transition.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride, but it’s about time to leave,” he said. “Come September I would hope that I’d be a spectator.”
But residents should not worry about their team, Morrison said, because Arsenault is committed to keeping it in Fergus.
An architect by trade, Arsenault has also committed to keeping the team name and colours, and next season will bring back the same coaching staff, directors and volunteers.
“The issue is not the loyalty,” Arsenault said of local team supporters. “The loyalty of the people and the community-based camaraderie is fantastic.”
Arsenault’s purchase included paying back the approximately $6,500 in team debt, as well as squaring up all the team’s other financial arrangements.
But while his newest acquisition may have been motivated mostly by finances, Arsenault said it will offer local hockey players an opportunity that never before existed.
The Fergus Devils are now affiliated with the Junior B Owen Sound Greys, of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, and the tier two Villanova Knights, of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League – both also owned by Arsenault.
He gave the example of a 16-year-old Fergus player that is excelling at the Junior C level, who will now be able to move up the ranks to Owen Sound and then Villanova.
It was through his travels back and forth from Owen Sound in an attempt to resurrect the Greys – the team did not compete last season and its future also was in jeopardy – that Arsenault first came up with the idea to purchase the Fergus team.
The town is on the way from his Toronto home to Owen Sound, so the geography made sense, and after meeting several times with Morrison and team directors, the Devils seemed a perfect fit.
“I’m glad to be involved in the community of Fergus,” Arsenault said. The overarching concept of “protecting players through vertical affiliation” was borne last fall after the Knights overhauled their roster, leaving many players with nowhere to play junior hockey.
“There’s a lot of good things about it,” Arsenault said of the three-team affiliation.
Scouting and recruitment staff can work seamlessly between the squads, he said, but that does not mean there will be no talent left in Fergus.
He expects the team to be competitive every season in the Georgian Bay/Mid-Ontario Junior C Hockey League, which is restructuring next season to include a new team from Caledon, and possibly two others.
“The competition is going to be very intense. On any given night, any team can win,” he said. “I expect a lot of close rivalries to develop.”
Arsenault said next season Eddy Gaffney will be back as head coach and will also take over from Morrison as general manager.
“I was impressed with what [Gaffney] did last season … and I’m confident in his abilities,” he said. “We’ll give him a chance to prove what he can do.”
For Morrison, the transition will be bittersweet.
The Elora resident said he won’t miss the work, but he looks back fondly on the memories created with all the good people with whom he has worked over the years.