BARRHEAD - The Barrhead U18 Steelers will have a dressing room at the Agrena painted in their colours.
That is the best councillors felt they could do about a request from Steelers players who asked council for the exclusive use of one of the Agrena's six dressing rooms.
Councillors approved public works to paint or decorate Dressing Room 5 after the team 6-0 (Coun. Ty Assaf was absent) in consultation with the Barrhead Minor Hockey Association (BMHA) during their Nov. 14 meeting.
In a separate motion, councillors officially turned down the Steelers players' request for a dedicated dressing room.
Councillors first discussed the request at their Oct. 24 meeting. They asked administration staff for more information on the potential costs of painting the dressing room and details regarding the Bombers' agreement with the municipality, most notably if the franchise paid for it.
The Bombers are a Tier 2 Junior 'A' hockey team currently playing in the five-team Canadian American Junior Hockey League (CAJHL).
The Steelers dressing room has been a contentious topic among Barrhead hockey fans ever since the Bombers arrived in the community four years ago. Before the team's arrival, the Steelers exclusively used Dressing Room 6.
CAO Edward LeBlanc said the Bombers currently do not pay a fee to have the devoted use of the dressing room.
He added the practice goes back to June 2019, when the Western Provincial Hockey Association (WHPA) approached the town, saying they were interested in bringing a franchise to the community.
As part of the negotiations, LeBlanc said, the town agreed to let the team use Dressing Room 6 for free.
However, council did not finalize the deal, asking for more information after they learned that the Town of Hinton voided their contract with the WHPA franchise there for failing to pay its bills.
LeBlanc added that they carried over the rental agreement when the municipality opened negotiations with Ron White, who wanted to move his Western States Hockey League (WSHL) team from California. That team would eventually become the current iteration of the Bombers.
Public works estimated the cost of painting the dressing room in Steelers colours and logo, which mirror the NHL's Boston Bruins, to be $200.
"The reality is that we only have six dressing rooms, and the Bombers have one of them," LeBlanc said, adding dressing room space is already at a premium on the weekends.
For instance, he said that in the last few years, the youngest age group, the initiates, only uses half the ice surface, allowing four teams to use the ice simultaneously and potentially requiring four dressing rooms.
As such, he said, administration reiterated their recommendation from the Oct. 24 meeting to reject the request.
LeBlanc also suggested that if councillors opted to have a dressing room painted in Steelers colours, the Fun Hockey program might also request similar treatment.
Coun. Don Smith wasn't concerned if Fun Hockey requested that a dressing room be painted in their colours, red and white, after the Red Wings.
"That's not a big ask. If that is all they want," he said.
Smith also suggested they discuss the possibility of having the Bombers pay for the right to use the dressing room, noting they were a business.
In addition to charging for their tickets, the CAJHL is a pay-to-play league which charges players a fee to be on the team.
Earlier in the meeting, LeBlanc noted that in December council would be reviewing its facility rates and fee schedule, saying if they wanted to charge the Bombers for the room, that would be an opportune time to make the change.
He also proposed that they may want to reevaluate if they continue to reserve a dressing room for the Bombers, considering the demand.
"Maybe no one should have an allocated dressing room," Smith said. "Perhaps they should have to clear out all their equipment after their games and practices like all the other minor hockey teams."
Coun. Dave Sawatzky interjected that while he couldn't support the Steelers' request for a dedicated dressing room, painting it in their colours would go a long way in creating more harmony.
"Because it is a neat privilege to be a young player at the end of the minor career, to be able to walk into a dressing room and see the colours of the team you have been working towards playing on is something special," he said.
Coun. Anthony Oswald interjected the issue of having the most senior, top-level team having a dedicated dressing room never used to be a problem.
He added that for years, the Elks, a Junior 'B' team that played in the Central Alberta Junior Hockey League from 1969 to the early 1990s, always had a dressing room allocated to them.
"It was never an issue. Never," Oswald said. "We even had a senior team that had their own room along with the Elks, and minor hockey had to work with four dressing rooms with similar or higher enrolment."
But having said that, Oswald noted he realized times have changed, adding he was open to discussing whether they should charge the Bombers for the right to have a dedicated dressing room.