Mike Piquette is all smiles as he shows off the Colts headquarters deep inside the Cornwall Civic Complex.
There's the spacious dressing room, the video room, the medical room, the laundry room, the skate sharpening room, the storage room and the business office. At various points along the way, framed pictures of former Colts hang from the walls. The nostalgia is even greater in Piquette's office.
One wall is filled with the names of 94 Colts players who have gone on to even bigger things on the ice. The names read like a trip down memory lane — Kilger, McDonell, Boisvert, Meloche, Herrington, Mann, Legue, Winchester, Verdone, McBride and Lepine, to name some. On another wall hangs the front pages of the Standard-Freeholder from days past celebrating previous Colts championship moments.
The current Colts campaign is summed up in a small white sign hanging above Piquette's desk: "The last CJHL team to win the Royal Bank Cup...Rockland Nationals in 1976. Our Mission is Simple!"
By the looks of it, the Colts have settled in quite nicely in the newer and shinier civic complex, and for good reason. For a Junior A hockey player, the professional amenities of the civic complex is about as good as it gets. And for a hockey promoter like Piquette, the building provides opportunities that simply weren't possible at the beloved Si Miller Arena.
There were concerns from some the move across Water Street would hurt the Colts. Previous stays at the
civic complex didn't turn out too well, and the Si — despite all her warts — is considered by many to be the
perfect venue for Junior A hockey. But judging by the early indications, it looks like the change in scenery
hasn't had much of an impact on the Colts. If anything, the move may have actually helped.
Sponsorships are strong, attendance is up and the Colts are winning games.
Piquette, the team's business/hockey operations manager, can take some of the credit.
The well-known hockey figure was brought in this year to try and bring some stability to the club after a turbulent season which saw the Colts miss the playoffs for the first time ever. A good fan and volunteer base was already in place, and Piquette set out to strengthen the team's organizational chart and the billeting and education policies.
The results so far have been pretty good, Piquette reports.
"We've more or less settled the ship. We're going in the direction we want to be (going) in," said Piquette.
Another part of Piquette's task was to handle the business side of the team and let Colts co-owner and head coach Ian MacInnis focus more on the hockey side of things. That too seems to be working.
"For me, it's been great," MacInnis said. "I can devote more time to the hockey (aspect). It's really freed up a lot of time."
The relationship between Piquette and his superiors, MacInnis and fellow co-owner Matt Jacobs, appears solid. MacInnis said Piquette's experience in the game has helped the franchise tremendously, while Piquette said the owners are committed to building a winner.
On the marketing side, Piquette quickly set in motion a series of changes aimed at putting more fans in the stands. Colts mascot Slapshot was brought back to life and the Celebrity Shootout has once again become a regular feature at home games. A new radio deal was ironed out with 97.3 CKON FM and community appearances by the Colts have increased. Hockey legend Bobby Hull was brought in one night to sign autographs, and a different Colts player is now made available after each home game to sign autographs. The team has also offered coupons on game tickets to various corporate sponsors, who in turn offer them to their customers.
Piquette said the moves are all aimed at developing strong ties between the team and the community, and the results have been positive.
Average attendance at Colts games has climbed to the 850-900 range this season — there have been a few 1,000-plus crowds — compared to the 400-600 who regularly showed up last year, he said. Meanwhile, season ticket membership (not including corporate sponsorships) currently numbers about 150. While the figure may not sound that good — it's been dropping for the last four years — Piquette points out it's still quite healthy compared to many other CJHL teams. The business manager said he'd like to see that figure hit 500 next season, and he believes that's achievable.
Ideally, Piquette believes the Colts should be able to draw 1,400 for regular season games and 2,000 in the playoffs. The spacious new low-level seating being installed at the civic complex — it should be in place by May — will make the venue even more attractive to seniors and others who may not be comfortable with the current seating in the building, he said.
Piquette is also hoping for a big crowd at the 2008 RBC Cup, taking place May 3 to 11 at the civic complex. For those who can't picture a full house for the event, Piquette points to 1996 when more than 4,000 fans crammed into the civic complex to see the Colts beat Gloucester in Game 7 of the CJHL Final.
"We've done it in the past," he said.
Until then, you can bet Piquette will be busy behind the scenes working on one thing or another. Tops on his to-do list? To have the Colts' championship banners moved out of the Si and into the civic complex, the team's new home. The team's goal? To add another banner to the collection this spring.
"That's our goal, to have a contender every year," said Piquette.