The Burns Lake Timbermen got the town excited about hockey, but their league’s way of doing business caught too many edges for many observers. (Michael Riis-Christianson photos/Lakes District News)

The Burns Lake Timbermen got the town excited about hockey, but their league’s way of doing business caught too many edges for many observers. (Michael Riis-Christianson photos/Lakes District News)

Burns Lake Timbermen reputation takes chops

GMHL business practices put through mill

The Timbermen hockey franchise has hit a snag with some of its most loyal original supporters and their experience from the Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL) and its western commissioner Derek Prue, has not been what they expected.

For the family of one of the players, it was a string of broken promises and unaddressed concerns. Teresa Findlay said the bill of goods they were sold at the beginning, for substantial amounts of money, fell far short. She itemized their observations in a letter. In it she asserts, among many other points, example like how the player agreement stated the players would be getting team video tutorials, and did not.

They were to have a gym pass, which they received but no instruction in how to use the facility and no trainer for appropriate exercises.

Team meals on the road were often not provided, required parent money to obtain food, and the bus stopped only at gas stations or fast-food locations when meals were offered.

Gear storage at the arena was usually insecure and often unsupervised.

The gear they were promised was late in arriving; some was never provided.

On one road trip, the team solution to accommodation was to have the players sleep on the bus in a parking lot.

On more than one occasion, there were too few rooms arranged so some players had to sleep on the hotel room floor.

The stated code of conduct was routinely broken by players and the adults involved with the team with no consequence, even during a charity game.

“As a home town girl of a home town kid playing for the home town league, it was embarrassing to say the least,” said Findlay.

There were trips when there was no bus at all and parents or other volunteers had to drive them.

Findlay is also furious that Burns Lake players were charged a pay-to-play rate of $10,000 but players on other teams were charged significantly less or nothing.

Adding to that insult was the sparse roster and poor practices. The wins-losses results were never the problem, but the overall experience of developing players in a properly supported environment was at issue.

“I could see that it would be beneficial to the town and to the young folks. It didn’t all work out as planned. The whole league, it appears, is rather unorganized,” said Angelika Posselt, who stepped into the team’s managerial role when no one else seemed willing to do so. To this day she remains one of the team’s most vocal supporters, but she is also realistic about what all happened.

Posselt, who had no kids on the team, agreed that she and others had to step up to get things done that the league showed no ability or willingness to provide. She took players into their own home, some nights, when billet families were not available. It takes months to arrange billets, she said, but the league attempted in vain to pull that off in only weeks.

From her more dispassionate position, she also saw where other parties in the agreement did not live up to their expectations. The Village of Burns Lake does not put their ice in early enough to hold proper tryouts, for one example, she said.

Lewis Jones, rec director for the Village of Burns Lake stated, “The ice went in at the usual time. We had it ready for just after Labor Day weekend which is the same as the last few seasons. The Timbermen didn’t start regular practices until the end of September. The village was never asked to put ice in early to accommodate tryouts.”

But the big one, and this is where her blood boils on behalf of the GMHL and the Timbermen, was the conduct of Hockey Canada, its provincial arm Hockey BC, through to the Burns Lake Minor Hockey Association.

She said she knows of bullying of children and adults by that connected set of organizations that she could scarcely stomach. Adults were told that if they provided services to the Timbermen, their children would be banned from playing minor hockey, referees told that if they officiated a Timbermen game they would be blackballed from any mainstream reffing work, and players forced to choose between sanctioned leagues or the GMHL under worry of future blacklisting.

Steve Bayes, president of Burns Lake Minor Association (BLMHA) said, “That was not BLMHA policies, its a BC Hockey’s policy and we are bound to follow that policy, I have no issues personally with it.” Bayes went on to say, “BLMHA would of love to support the Timbermen but the attitude of some of the players towards our kids wasn’t acceptable… when the Timbermen started our young players were excited they treated the Timbermen like the Braves.”

“We don’t have a Midget [U18] team, we haven’t had enough kids for that in years, so I’m not sure what BC Hockey was worried about,” Posselt said. “This was a good opportunity for kids in that age group to have more opportunities to play that they weren’t going to have in their own small town. Maybe BC Hockey needs to look at their own ranks [before casting aspersions on others]. Their behaviour was bad, bad, bad, almost personal.”

One of the earliest leading volunteers for the [Timbermen] team, Trevor Peterson, agreed with Findlay’s assessment that all the promises – many of them in writing – were simply not delivered.

“The term I like to use is dumpster fire. And the league dropped this dumpster fire in our laps and left it to us to figure out. We looked at it as running a minor hockey tournament every weekend,” he said. “It felt like a con job.”

The final infraction for him was when a set of players allegedly committed RCMP-involved behaviour, and the team did nothing of consequence.

“I was done. They were not holding these kids accountable. There was no disciplinary action at all,” he said.

Peterson was convinced that commitment was critically missing.

“I think Burns Lake would do well with a junior team. They would have a lot of support. But not this league, not with this guy. There’s no trust there anymore,” he said. “It was a great idea, and it showed me what the community can do, but this isn’t the league for Burns Lake.”

So will there be a second year of the GMHL in the Burns Lake area?

“I think so,” said Posselt. “Yes there were hiccups. Quite a few hiccups, actually. But if it’s organized better from the start, and there is a commitment from GMHL, yes it can happen.”

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