Senior Hockey in NL Is Alive and Well

Posted on April 12, 2024

Senior hockey is alive and well on both coasts of the island right now.

The St. John’s Caps are the 2023-24 Senior Hockey champions. The Caps knocked off the Deer Lake Red Wings on Saturday evening in a competitive series that saw multiple close games, great crowds on both coasts and youthful star power. Looking at the photos from the Hodder Rec Complex brought back memories of 2008-09 when yours truly was taking the odd “Gordie” elbow from the vibrant Darren “Langer” Langdon, who now patrols the ‘Wings bench.

Photo credit Meaney Digital

NL Senior Hockey has been around long before I was playing. Long before my dad and uncles played, too. Senior Hockey has experienced great times, lulls, folded leagues, different league formats, merged teams, new fight rules, and everything in between. The only thing that has remained constant for decades has been the massive block of wood known as the Herder Memorial Trophy. If you’ve ever earned the right to hoist it, the Herder has some weight to it!

Why has the NL Senior League enjoyed a renaissance in recent years? Let’s weigh in.

A League Format That is Sustainable

Dad (Randy Pearcey) and I had a chat about Senior Hockey in Florida recently. His opinion on a Provincial Senior League – “it can never work” and I think that he’s right. Having two separate leagues (West League and East League), with both leagues coming together at seasons end to crown a Provincial Champion is THE formula for success. If the league winner from the prior season wants to venture off to the Allan Cup, they have the option to pick up players and do it (it is to my knowledge that Southern Shore – last years Herder winner – will be entering this years Allan Cup).

Having two distinct leagues works because of cost minimization. Teams with smaller budgets aren’t pushed to the limit by having to bus across the island and put their roster up in hotels, pay for meals, and so on. If I’m a player on the Caps (for example) I can sleep in my own bed when I play against every team (on the road) except for Clarenville. I remember playing in a Provincial League format back in 2013-14; the league had 5 teams (Mount Pearl, CBN, Grand Falls, Western, and Gander). If you were playing on Western, every road game is a true away game! Mount Pearl – who weren’t drawing the same size crowds as the other 4 teams back then – had to rent a bus and do the hotel thing for a large portion of their road schedule. Crunch the numbers on that, and the Province-wide concept was a short-term solution.

Consistent Franchises With Familiar Players

Consistency is king when it comes to senior hockey, and that starts with consistent franchise locations. For the past couple of years, the West League has iced 4 teams and the East League has iced 6 teams. All 10 franchise locations in that span have been the same. This makes a difference because the fans can establish relationships with the players, and can get into a winter routine. Sponsors – sensing a good thing is building – want to sink their hard-earned dollars into the teams.


Rivalries are a by-product of consistent franchises with familiar players. Using my senior hockey career as an example, our Clarenville Caribou teams were virtually identical for 3 of my 4 seasons there. The Deer Lake Red Wings roster was virtually identical too. By the end of year 3, those guys hated us and we hated them! Rivalries can percolate when you see the same faces for 10+ games per season (playoffs included). I’ll never forget playing the Corner Brook Royals 11 straight times in the 2007-08 season. The result was this – a Game 7 playoff brawl for the ages. Click here for the video .

If you clicked on the video and witnessed that gong show, the concept of rivalry hasn’t changed 15+ years later.

For a stretch of time in senior hockey, rivalries were everywhere. Grand Falls fans would travel to Clarenville back in 2009-10 and fights would break out in the stands. In the 2010’s, things changed because of teams folding, league formats altering, the new fight rules changing the complexion of the game, and dispersal drafts in full swing. You’d play against a guy one year, with him the next, and then against again in year 3 (this happened when Mount Pearl had a team one season, folded for a year, then re-joined the provincial league the following year). Games were more buddy-buddy in the mid-2010’s, which was hard for fans to justify spending $10-15-20 per ticket to see no physicality whatsoever (not my opinion, but an opinion of numerous fans that chatted with me about why they stopped going to games in the late 2010’s).

In the 2020’s, you’re starting to see those rivalries firing back up. Clarenville’s nucleus has a lot of guys in their early-20’s from “the bay” facing off against “city guys” they have battled with their entire lives on the Caps/Shore/etc. The by-product – entertaining, fast hockey!

Teams Being Fiscally Sensible

I used the word sensible here, because one of the biggest downfalls of senior hockey over the years has been teams making financial decisions that just didn’t make any sense whatsoever.

I am not being critical of anyone who made decisions in eras where teams were paying individual players upwards of $20,000 per year (yes you read that correctly). I have the utmost amount of respect for people who manage teams – most of them do it voluntarily – but some of the money that was being thrown around in the years when I was in the senior circuit was bordering on obtuse. I’m not being critical of players who made “the big bucks” either – as Jay-Z says you’re a business, man , and he’s right. If someone is willing to pay $20,000+ a season for you, who in the right mind would turn that down? Don’t hate the player, hate the game. BUT once players start setting a salary bar that high, it has a trickle-down effect. It created a “if so and so is getting that, I’m asking for this”.

I’m not sure what the “import rule” is in senior hockey right now, but it looks to me like teams are littered with local talent + players who are from abroad but working locally. This lightens teams financial burdens – years ago, the import rules made it hard for teams to compete without them. 3 imports flying in every weekend was not cheap!

I’m all for teams paying players expenses, an equipment allowance and some form of minuscule salary to compensate their time and energy (within a firm budget run by a person like Stan Coffin in Grand Falls, who knew where every penny was going and how it was going). But these things have to be done according to a budget, with the bottom line being at the forefront. No business can operate for long when its in the red, and I feel that the 10 teams currently operating in the NL Senior Hockey circuit have a very firm grasp of this. Guys who are currently playing in the East League aren’t getting multiple pairs of skates paid for per year, they aren’t getting $500 a game. The guys who are playing senior hockey right now play for the love of the game, and that passion is trickling over into the on-ice product which – by looking at the crowds for the Herder – is attracting the eye of supporters.

15 years ago – time flies

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