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Jr Bears shift towards Driscoll Arena for 2024-2025 Season

By Mike Meech, 02/20/24, 3:15PM EST


Dear GPYHA Families,
It is with both sadness and excitement that I write to the GPYHA family today with an official announcement about the future of the Jr Bears moving forward.  For the 2024-25 season the Jr Bears are absorbing the SWS Chiefs, and our primary home will become Driscoll Arena in Fall River.  We will continue to be the Jr Bears and will continue wearing our same uniforms.  The name will become something to the effect of South Shore, South County or Bristol County Jr Bears (something to better articulate our new geographic reach).
I know this is a substantial change that has both positive and negative consequences for our program and to each player/family involved.  I want to thank all our coaches and players/families who have given countless hours towards the success of the Jr Bears.  It truly breaks my heart that this decision negatively impacts a portion of our Jr Bears family as I have been on the ice coaching alongside every coach and every player currently in our program.  In many cases these on ice relationships go back 5+ years to when my son first started with the Jr Bears as a U8C player in 2019.  Putting that emotion aside, I will do my best to explain how we got here and hopefully answer as many questions as possible, but as always, I am available by phone/email/text to further discuss.  
Over the past several seasons the Jr Bears have seen an influx of quality coaches which directly coincided with the rapid growth of our program.  We have seen an explosion of younger players who love the game of hockey, highlighted by the fact that three years ago we had 25 U8 players on 3 teams. This year we have 60 U8 players on 5 teams.  This is especially impressive when the number of youth players in Rhode Island has been stagnant for many years.  The growth at the U8 level puts us in a situation where the status quo at Lynch Arena isn't sustainable or viable.
For those unaware Lynch Arena is privately owned and operated and was recently, along with Providence Hockey Club, acquired by Albany Road Real Estate Partners.  Below is from the Albany Road website which outlines their purpose of maximizing investment returns for their investors.  I spent some time on their website and did not find anything pertaining to supporting or benefiting youth hockey players or the affordability of the sport.    
Albany Road utilizes various, albeit complimentary, investment strategies and unique, competitive advantages to accomplish its mission of delivering attractive current and total returns to its investors.

Over the past 3 years our ice cost has gone from $300/hour to $330/hour to $365/hour and I would anticipate this rising to over $400/hour for next season.  For comparison most of the other Rhode Island rinks charge $260-$275/hour.  Since I took over as president, we have not increased our tuition costs.  We have accomplished this by putting an increasing number of kids on the ice for practice.  This hasn't been a choice but rather out of necessity as Lynch has only been able to offer us 5 weekday hours, typically at the least desirable times. Not only is this not enough ice for all our teams, but each year our ice allotment has declined.  I am proud of our coaches who have delivered high quality practices despite the challenge of so many kids on the ice.  
As I mentioned above, we have 60 U8 players who consistently practice together.  We also have three U10 teams who also most typically practice together.  Next year I anticipate even more U8 players and likely four U10 teams.  60 U8 players and 3 U10 teams is the absolute max number of players/teams that can share the ice and highlights how our ice needs are not an hour or two more per week but more like double what is currently available to us at Lynch Arena.  Additionally, if this ice was available at Lynch it would result in a substantial increase to our tuition costs in a sport which is already very expensive.  While families would likely figure out how to absorb these increases for their kids who have been playing for years, the increased fees would be a further deterrent for those looking to try hockey for the first time and create a competitive disadvantage for the Jr Bears in the coming years.
Driscoll Arena in Fall River is one of 27 ice rinks owned by the state of Massachusetts and run by FMC Ice Sports.  FMC is committed to running these rinks to the benefit of the community, not to make as much money as possible.  This means affordable town-based youth hockey programs, public skating and high school hockey are their priority and their current ice rate is $260/hour.  Their contract with the state only allows for small hourly increases on a year-over-year basis with their leadership committed to controlling costs to help make hockey as affordable as possible.  Since I met with their senior leadership a number of weeks ago, I have been blown away by how accommodating they are willing to be from the number of available hours of ice, to rink maintenance, and building out equipment storage for us.  It also looks possible that our weekday ice will be split over 3-4 days not just Monday and Friday which as I mentioned before is deemed the least desirable/unusable by Providence Hockey Club.   Additionally, it looks like FMC can provide enough weekend ice for our needs without starting before 9 AM.  Should our ice needs continue to grow they are happy to open at 8 AM or 7 AM to accommodate our needs.
I have nothing but good things to say about my Lynch contact Rick Beauregard who has always been kind, respectful, and professional.  However, Rick's job is to fulfil the requirements of Providence Hockey Club and help the rink owners make as much money as possible through ice rentals.  For this season I received our ice contract with the rate of $365/hour along with our ice allotment on August 4th which is well beyond registration and after the SCHL deadline to submit game ice blocks for regular season scheduling.  This is well after tryouts/registration and at a time where finding additional ice at area rinks is next to impossible.  Conversely, FMC will finalize our ice blocks immediately following tryouts to meet our ice needs based on our team counts.  I cannot tell you how stressful the past several summers have been waiting/hoping that our ice allotment at Lynch would be sufficient to meet our needs, and that our tuition fees would be sufficient to cover the cost.  
This is the longest email I have ever written/plan to write again, but I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the program/players/coaches who will be joining us from the SWS Chiefs.  Once a robust program with as many if not more players than the Jr Bears the Chiefs took a massive hit during covid and have struggled to regain their footing.  Their program currently features 5 teams (U8C. U10A, U12A, U12C, U14B) which dovetails nicely with the Jr Bears larger number of younger players but without a U14 team the past two seasons.  I anticipate the combined organization will have lots of U8 teams, 3 or 4 - U10 teams, 3 - U12 teams and 2 - U14 teams.  From their president Dave Senra to their board and coaches I know they are excited to be a part of, and help build, a bigger, stronger, more sustainable Jr Bears program while maintaining the commitment to high level, fun local hockey in the SCHL.
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible in the coming days (please digest this information for a day or two before blasting me with emails/texts/calls).  2024-25 season tryout schedules will be released in the next couple days with tryout dates ranging from March 13th to 24th and will likely utilize both Lynch and Driscoll.  
Mike Meech
President, GPYHA