Junior hockey is back in Brantford.
A local ownership group has been given approval by the Ontario Hockey Association to ice a junior B hockey team in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Midwestern Conference beginning in September.
“The next step is to get a team name, get our uniforms and go out to the community to get support,” team president Paul Polillo said. “We put this group together to try and bring hockey back to Brantford. We finally found out (Thursday) morning, so we are all pretty excited right now.”
Polillo joined forces with Darren Dedobbelaer, Mike Spadafora, Scott Rex and Ken Lindsay back in August 2012, shortly after word came that the Brantford Golden Eagles would be leaving the city for Caledonia.
“We are all big Brantford people and we believe in our community,” Polilllo said. “All of us have had a little part of junior hockey around here and we want the younger generation to have the same opportunity we had.”
The team will play its games at the main rink of the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre.
Golden Eagles ownership cited concerns with the Gretzky centre’s ability to handle a junior hockey club as one of the reasons why the team left.
Those concerns aren’t apparent to Polillo and the new group.
“Our mayor and (Gretzky centre) manager Eric Burke have done more than enough for us to be satisfied with this facility,” Polillo said. “We have a great dressing room, we have an office and a storage area. We have a state-of-the-art facility and we are very happy to be here.
“We look forward to September but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Rex, who will be the team’s coach, has a very successful track record behind the bench. He captured the Sutherland Cup championship while coaching the junior B Golden Eagles in 2010.
Spadafora will act as the team’s general manager. Dedobbelaer and Lindsay are owners and bring some background in junior hockey, both playing and coaching.
The group believes junior hockey can work in Brantford.
“With the population of Brantford and with the new arena, there is no reason why this shouldn’t be successful,” Lindsay said. “Especially if the people of Brantford get behind this team.”
The OHA had the Brantford application before it for a few months and made an official decision at a board meeting on Wednesday night.
“The ownership group had a very strong application,” OHA CEO Scott Farley said. “Brantford has always been a strong junior B market and the time is right for this expansion. This brings us to 27 teams in the GOJHL divided among three divisions.”
Farley wasn’t sure if some minor realignment of teams will be needed, but said he is confident that the new Brantford team can survive with the former Golden Eagles possibly playing in the same division.
“Throughout the process the Caledonia (Pro-Fit Corvairs) were aware of things,” Farley said. “They have a strong program and I don’t think they were overly concerned about it. There are enough players in the market that we are confident everyone can peacefully co-exist together.”