After nearly two years of negotiations, Niagara-on-the-Lake is officially getting its own Junior A hockey team.
The team, the NOTL Nationals, will call Virgil's Meridian Credit Union Arena its home and will play games on Friday nights and some Sundays, said team owner Spencer De Wolfe, who is a long-time hockey player and coach, himself.
“It’s not just going to be a hockey game, it’s going to be a family event,” De Wolve said. “It’s entertainment for people to enjoy and look forward to on Friday nights.”
Players will be trained in development skill sessions by former NHL players Zenon Konopka and Dave Cowan and will be coached by former Hamilton Bulldogs coach John Grossi. Two other coaches, both from Toronto, will also be named in the coming weeks.
De Wolfe said NOTL was the “right fit” for the team, which he’s been wanting to start for some time.
“We thought Niagara-on-the-Lake is a fabulous town … It’s somewhat surprising how driven the community is, and it was important for us to find a town that was accepting.”
Putting a Junior A team together, he said, can get “quite expensive,” and although there isn’t an exact price tag yet, there is a lot to do — from setting up branding and franchising to renovating the arena and purchasing equipment.
He said the team and town have worked together to put the “best product on the ice.”
“The whole staff of the town has been awesome in negotiating and working things out.”
The team logo is currently being added to the arena's changing rooms, ticket booth and coaches' doors.
De Wolfe said painting the NOTL Nationals' logo on the ice hasn't been negotiated yet, but they've signed a three-year lease for the arena and intend to stay around.
The team will travel to play other Ontario Junior A teams, though De Wolfe said the furthest they would likely go is around two hours away.
Team tryouts will be held at the end of May for players aged 16 to 20.
NOTL Lord Mayor Pat Darte said he's “enthusiastic about another opportunity that brings youth to the town.”
“I know my family will be establishing a new tradition of being at the arena on Friday nights to cheer on the NOTL Nationals,” Darte said.
Information on tryouts and other ways to get involved can be found at notlnationals.com