The move of the Cornwall Prowlers to Manotick leaves a senior hockey void in town

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Eastern Ontario Super Hockey League without a former flagship franchise, the Cornwall Prowlers?

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Even by senior hockey standards, with its twists and turns, franchise moves and frequent expansion and deletion, it was a jolt to fans who didn’t expect this offseason development.

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Ultimately, a lack of local support for the Prowlers — both in the stands and on the corporate sponsorship side — led to the sale of ownership of the franchise, now the Manotick Mariners and set to hit the ice for the 2024-25 campaign this fall. .

“The support wasn’t there (in Cornwall),” said Jon Zinck, a player in the league for four years who this past campaign became assistant general manager of the Prowlers – with a 25 per cent stake – and, late in the campaign, the head coach. “Cornwall has passionate hockey fans but they didn’t support (the Prowlers). To be a successful franchise, you have to have support whether the team wins or not.”

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The EOSHL – now 16 teams – seems to be finding its niche in smaller communities in the Seaway Valley, Ottawa Valley and points west. Zinck said many teams in the loop have more than 40 community sponsors, but last season the Prowlers had only a dozen.

Cornwall’s best year turned out to be the first season at the Benson Centre, pre-pandemic times when the Prowlers won their first EOSHL title in March 2020, with team owner Mitch Gagne wearing many hats as head coach and league president.

Gagne has gradually retired his duties and as of last month is no longer affiliated with the EOSHL. The league, which operates as a corporation, has been sold to businessmen Zinck and Josh Rowland, both of Beckwith, near Carleton Place, who are now co-chairmen of the EOSHL.

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Zinck owns several companies related to home construction; Rowland, who has done numerous tours over 20 years with the Canadian Armed Forces, also owns several businesses, including In-LineK9 Canada Ltd., which provides dog training services in Ottawa and the surrounding area.

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Zinck and Rowland have quickly put their stamp on an ever-growing league, with recent expansion announcements welcoming the Lindsay Barncats – who give the EOSHL a presence an hour northeast of Toronto – and the Westport Lumberjacks, both clubs being introduced in the Western Conference.

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“That will be it for (this year’s expansion),” Zinck said. “They balance the conferences, with eight teams (each).”

Zinck said the league will almost certainly grow again soon, and many communities have made inquiries.

“I think senior hockey is very popular because it’s a lot of fun, it’s fun,” Zinck said. “And for the players, who have played junior and then maybe some (minor pro) or spent some time in Europe, coming back to the (Eastern Ontario) area and being able to get the adrenaline going again, playing some pretty good hockey — that’s not beer league hockey.”

Will the EOSHL return to Cornwall in the next two years? It seems unlikely. Zinck said there could be an expansion in the area, but it would most likely happen to an interested group in Akwesasne first.

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“I think it’s a (strong possibility),” Zinck said. “There are some things that (an Akwesasne franchise) would have to sort out, like the bridge fee, and they would have to sort something out with the (South Stormont Mustangs) ownership.”

The EOSHL does not allow two franchises to operate within 30 kilometers of each other – unless the two teams can agree on a suitable arrangement.

The Prowlers were one of the original four teams in the league, but only the Deseronto Bulldogs are still in their original location. The Maxville Millionaires became the South Stormont Mustangs and the West Carleton Rivermen moved to nearby Arnprior.

Cornwall, of course, has had tremendous stability in hockey – on the junior side. The modern-era Cornwall Colts, who transferred across the border after skating as the Massena Americans, have played in the city since the fall of 1992.

But pro, semi-pro and male amateurs have been a different story for the past 31 years. Cornwall has been home to many franchises over the years, but with each team here for only a few seasons, including the Aces (AHL), Comets (Quebec league), River Kings (NAHL) and Nationals (FHL).

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