Stressing the benefits the team brings to the community, the Salmon Arm Silverbacks have asked city council for a break on facility lease and ice-time costs at the Shaw Centre.
At the Monday, July 22 city council meeting, Dale Unruh, the managing director of the team’s ownership group, and Brooks Christensen, the team’s governor and operations manager, requested adjustments to what they pay for the use of the Shaw Centre, which amounts to $100,000 per year for five years.
Unruh said the owners would keep the team going without a break on the lease agreement if necessary, but stressed the team is not a moneymaking venture for him and his partners. Rather, it is a labour of love which they are committed to keeping up and running. He added the ownership group is writing cheques totalling more than $300,000 each season in order to keep the team viable. Unruh noted this is not an uncommon condition in the BCHL where few teams make money.
After taking on ownership of the team in 2013, Unruh said he saw a lack of continuity between the ‘Backs and minor hockey in Salmon Arm. In response to this, the owners hired Scott Atkinson to be the team’s head coach; the minor hockey teams now compete under the Silverbacks’ names and colours.
“He is the best… They made up awards that they didn’t have before and gave it to him this year, he’s that good. He’s affected a lot of youth,” Unruh said of Atkinson.
Along with the benefits to youth hockey in Salmon Arm, Unruh and Christensen spoke about the financial gain the team brings to city businesses. Unruh said an economic development study has suggested the Silverbacks bring over $1.4 million into the community annually. Christensen added the team is the only entity that draws that kind of money into the community’s hotels, restaurants and other businesses over the winter.
Coun. Kevin Flynn said further research into the team’s needs and how the city could help them is required before a resolution is brought forward. He also thanked Unruh and the other owners for all they have done to improve the level of play on the ice and the Silverbacks’ relationship with minor hockey.
Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond noted possible difficulties with the city helping the Silverbacks as the Local Government Act does not allow municipalities to assist businesses.
“We all want the same things and we need to find a way, but there are some puzzle pieces that are really tough to fit together, we need to work this out together,” she said.