According to Brian at the Making Cents blog the Merritt Centennials will continue to operate for the 2009-10 BCHL season:
"I've received confirmation that a local group has stepped up financially to ensure that the Centennials continue to operate in Merritt as a non-profit society for at least the 2009-10 season.What I can put together from that brief statement is that the team isn't being sold at this time, but some local investors are sinking money into the non-profit society to keep it going at least one more year. To me that would indicate they must be at least somewhat confident that one of the potential private ownership groups is going to come through at some point. If not, why would they just sink more money into a hopeless cause? There's got to be some reason for optimism if they're getting the money to continue on.
Also, the team's current Board of Directors has voted against offering head coach and GM Al Glendinning a contract for next season."
As for Glendinning being let go, this is no surprise from a hockey perspective. The Cents were awful in the past two seasons. That alone would be enough for a coach to lose his job. However, it was also revealed here that Glendinning was actively kicking the tires on the idea of moving the team to Kamloops. Given that he's not an owner of the Centennials one could only speculate as to what his motivation was. However, could someone that was looking into moving your franchise really be trusted to put the best product on the ice? If you were looking to buy and move a team wouldn't it be easier if they were awful and the games were poorly attended?
I also wonder if they still owe him any money.
While this is good news for Merritt fans it sure took a long time to surface. My understanding was that most people involved from players to staff had no idea what the future was for the franchise before this news got out. That means they are already way behind the 8-ball in a very important recruiting season. They didn't have a spring camp, their very existence was up in the air and now they don't have a coach or general manager to get started on a late recruiting drive. Merritt's executive is going to have to act fast. Will Bill Birks be the new man in charge? If not, will he at least be allowed to act as interim GM while they search for someone? It's almost May and most teams have locked up the majority of their commitments. They're already looking at what's left instead of the whole field.
The same problems that I documented in January still exist. This is a team that is now essentially on life support thanks to generous local investors. Without a sale and an influx of new blood and new ideas, how will next season be much different than the last two? Glendinning is gone, but you can't tell me that he was the only reason for the franchise's struggles. There is still a ton of work to do before this franchise can be considered saved.
I think the fans, staff and volunteers in Merritt are wonderful and dedicated hockey people. There just aren't enough of them. Without new ownership it's hard to imagine there will be enough money to sink into doing what is necessary to lure more back. Even with a bigger budget for marketing and staff and player recruitment I still wonder if a franchise can thrive in that building and in that community. I don't say that because I want them to fail, I'd love if they have tremendous success. I suppose I'd just call myself skeptical.
Hopefully a white knight comes along before someone has to pull the plug.
At the very least it sounds like I'll be enjoying a few trips back to that old barn next season. The program I took from the last game of 08-09 can go into the recycling bin because it's no longer much of a souvenir.... and I'm glad to hear it.
UPDATE: Brian now has an interview with the new financial group's spokesperson on his blog. I can't seem to listen to it on this computer but you can feel free to go and check it out! He also mentions that they are searching for a new coach and GM. I know you want to make the right hire because it's an important one, but hopefully somebody is actively recruiting while they carry this process out.