AMHERST – After missing last week’s games due to restructuring, the CIBC Wood Gundy Fundy Phantoms will be back on the ice this weekend when they take on the defending Atlantic champion Eastern Shore Mariners Friday night at 9 p.m. at Amherst Stadium in Nova Scotia Junior C Hockey League action.
The game comes after the Phantoms were outscored 52-3 in their first three games of the season.
“Unfortunately, the first week of the season we were in a bad way because we had about six guys who couldn’t play the opening weekend,” Phantoms coach Steve LeBlanc said. “We played those three games with 12 skaters and you can’t play this level of hockey with 12 skaters.”
Two of those games were against Chester, who were one point behind the defending champions last year. That team is made up of all junior B and some Junior A players, according to LeBlanc.
“They have a budget of about $100,000 a year, so when you go in to play those teams you hope to hang with them, and that’s about all you can hope for and not get embarrassed,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, we’re still recruiting and we’re trying to solve a problem the league created.”
Leblanc said the problem the league created was allowing two teams in the Cumberland market. He criticized them for allowing the creation of the Oxford Colts, when there was already a junior C team in Cumberland County.
“We were here first and the league allowed that team to move to Oxford, which created a great deal of grief for us,” he said. “The league has created any problems that the Phantoms have right now. We had a good player base and we were recruiting strongly. We had things going in the right direction and the league was nice enough to put another team 15 minutes away from us and really put us in a bad situation.”
Phantoms owner Paul Morris agreed.
“In my opinion the Oxford Colts should have never been put in Oxford,” Morris said. “It doesn’t matter what team you contacted, whether it’s the Amherst Ramblers, Cumberland Blues or the Barrington Ice Dogs, and asked them what they think of another team starting 15 minutes from where they live. They’d laugh at you.
“They were always a Colchester team, Fundy was always a Cumberland team, and where else in the province do you see two junior teams in the same community, especially one as small as Cumberland?”
Morris said the Oxford Colts were supposed to play 75 per cent of their games in Tatamagouche last season before moving to Oxford full-time this season.
“They (the league) said there was no suitable ice in Tatamagouche and I find that a little hard to believe considering they’re redoing the whole rink in Tatamagouche,” Morris said. “It was a mistake of the league to table a motion to bring another team into Cumberland County.”
Morris said the original motion to bring the Colts to Oxford permanently, “was put to a vote and it was never put on the floor for a rebuttal. I didn’t know that until recently because I missed the league meeting this summer.”
The fact remains that there are two junior C teams in Cumberland County, and the Phantoms are dealing with that reality.
“We’ve added five more players this week and more are coming,” LeBlanc said.
The owner is also expecting better days ahead.
“They might be a little bit surprised what we put on the ice this weekend. I think you’ll see the numbers on the bench increase with a few familiar faces,” said Morris.
Speculation has been that there’s a chance the Fundy Phantoms might fold before the season ends. Does Morris foresee that happening?
“I’m not going down without a fight, I can tell you that, and you usually have to swing pretty hard to get me down and stay,” Morris said.
“I’ll say this, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’”
League president Tom Foley could not be reached for comment.
The Oxford Colts play their home opener of the season Friday at 8 p.m., at the Oxford Arena.