So about time to peeve off a few non-fans again and pump the tires for UNB Hockey™ !
A short time ago we had the big news that McGill had landed a million buck birthday gift from some members of the Molson family - Montreal beer drinking paying dividends! The bequest will fund a full-time assistant coach position with the hockey team, plus fund recruiting and scholarships. All good, and brings the national ranked Redmen in alignment with many teams in the AUS who already have full-time assistant or associate coaches (though not all are paid ...): Acadia, Dalhousie, Moncton, StFX, Saint Mary's and UNB. I'm not as familiar with the situation outside the AUS, but pretty certain Alberta has a full-time assistant coach.
So how do the AUS teams do it? Well it helps that many of the teams get decent paid crowds; 7 of the 8 AUS teams are in the Top 10 for attendance in the CIS. For the non-football schools, hockey is the "big" sport on campus, and thanks to Tom Coolen at Acadia raising the bar in the recruiting wars in the 1990's, there is intense pressure to find the financial resources to keep up with the Joneses. The conference is big time in the smaller AUS markets and gets lots of media coverage. Most CIS Blog regulars are familiar with all of this.
Now UNB is raising the bar again. They've just announced that they've hired Dylan Taylor as their new Director of Player Personnel. You remember Dylan don't you, the former UPEI Panthers captain and then head coach who was victim of a player revolt last season? Well I'm glad to see him back in hockey - I always admired his grit and frankness as a player and then coach and I'm glad he's been able to move past that mess in Charlottetown. It doesn't hurt that V-Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall is also an Islander, and I think we can all agree by now that MacDougall is a pretty good judge of hockey talent. And before people ask, Taylor has a full-time teaching job and this new gig is a part-time position.
But it is not just about the product on the ice that draws fans, you have to make your program important to the community - just like Major Junior does it. As an example, next week UNB has their 20th annual Mark Jeffrey Memorial Game, normally a fundraiser for, you guessed it, the Mark Jeffrey awards (hockey scholarships). Well, this time the hockey program is going to be involved with the Think Pink movement for breast cancer research, and they'll be having their first "Pink in the Rink" game, with half the funds going to that cause, pink jerseys for the V-Reds, the whole bit. High school groups are helping sell tickets. It will probably be a near sell-out. A whole feel-good event.
So what's my point? It is not just about recruiting the best hockey players you can find. And I don't believe it is all about the money. I think varsity teams have to act less like old school university teams and more like Junior or semi-pro teams and become community teams. It works for Laval in football and it works for UNB in hockey, and it works for just about every NCAA power.
But enough about UNB, what are you aware of that other schools are doing to make their varsity sports more relevant in their local communities?