Junior Humphries has been going to minor hockey tournaments for close to 16 years, but he’s never experienced problems like the ones his teams did recently.
Humphries is the president of the Labrador Minor Hockey Association. During Easter week – the traditional time minor hockey tournaments are held in the province – seven Labrador teams were flying to the island to chase championship gold.
Most teams flew to St. John’s, he says, and knowing that they’d have to move a lot of players, gear and families, travel arrangements were made in February as soon as the details of the tournament were known.
It didn’t go smoothly, to say the least.
One of the biggest changes that bothered coaches and players was the fact that players had to bring their gear nine days ahead of time for transport. Previously, he says, it was only a day or two in advance.
Nine days without gear meant the players couldn’t practice or train in the days leading up to the tournament, which Humphries says is a big disadvantage.
"Having to take bags nine days in advance is a bit excessive," says Humphries.
Delay in gear return
Even more frustrating was the fact that the association then got notice that the bags weren't going on the return flights with the players and were instead trucked to Goose Bay - and then would either be trucked or flown to Lab West from there.
The truck carrying the bags took an extra day getting back to Labrador because the boat to Blanc Sablon was delayed an extra day due to ice.
But, Humphries says, there was another issue. Some of the players were scheduled to attend a hockey skills camp, which they needed their gear for. The camp is part of qualifying for a chance to advance to Gander later to try out for the provincial team.
Humphries says some players hoped to borrow equipment, but certain equipment is almost “molded” to the players. Skates are broken in, he says, and it could be dangerous if players don’t have their own equipment.
The association got to work and put out that fire, and thanks to several calls to politicians and media, the bags of those attending the skills camp were taken to St. Anthony and were eventually delivered to the Labrador West players.
Humphries says it's frustrating to have to endure this to just go to a local hockey tournament in your own province. And, he says, the minor hockey association would like to go to other provinces for hockey that week, but they have to attend certain tournaments in Newfoundland and Labrador as per Hockey NL rules.
The Labrador West Minor Hockey Association says it cost $150,000 for plane tickets to the tournaments, and the group is hoping to meet with the airline to prevent this type of issue from happening again.
Humphries has sent a letter to Provincial Airlines that hockey mom Kelley Albert wrote on behalf of the association to let the company know how frustrated players and families are with the situation.
Humphries says once the airline realized the predicament minor hockey was in, PAL representatives worked hard to get the situation rectified. It was hoped that the bags left behind after the tournament, which ran April 27-29, would arrive in Labrador West by May 3.
The Labrador Voice asked Provincial Airlines to comment on the situation. Stephen Dinn, who provided a written response on behalf of PAL, acknowledged that travel is busy during Easter week due to the number of hockey tournaments, and as a result, extra flights were added to the usual schedule.
“Given the volume of cargo that is involved with transporting hockey teams, we coordinate with each group in advance to ensure the equipment is delivered to our facilities in time (in this case five to six days ahead of departure date) so that we can transport it to the tournament destination prior to the start of play,” Dinn wrote.
“Outside of normal baggage, this year we had 145 hockey bags to move to/from Labrador West; a marked increase from normal operations.”
It was the sheer number of bags that prompted the decision to deliver the gear by ground, he said.
“On the return to Labrador West, this year PAL Airlines decided, at its own expense, to ground ship all the hockey bags at once. When we learned some players required their equipment earlier than the planned delivery date, we diverted the ground shipment to the nearest airport and loaded those bags on one of our aircraft to ensure timely delivery.”
He says that the airline has worked hard to stay in touch with the impacted players and provide them with updates and expected the gear to be returned by May 3.
“PAL Airlines has always been a huge supporter of youth and youth recreational programs throughout our network,” he wrote.
“We do the best we can with our human and financial resources to ensure they get to travel to do the things they enjoy. We know these experiences will provide memories that last a lifetime and we take our role in that very seriously. Things don’t always go as planned, and we apologize for that, but we do our best to minimize any inconvenience caused to our customers during this busy time.”