A local hockey team and the league they play is facing claims that they owe money or did not deliver on sponsorship contracts.
On July 6, the Cold Lake Wings hockey team posted to their Facebook page that “the team is debt free and ready to continue to make strides in the community.”
However, former Cold Lake Wings coach and general Manager Marek Babic, an Insurance Advisor with Brokerlink, Puur Athletics, Stingray Radio, a Cold Lake area realtor, and the hockey team’s bussing company all claim that they are owed money from the Cold Lake Wings or the Wings did not deliver on their sponsorship agreements.
One hockey parent from Edmonton is also trying to get money back from the WPHA, while another hockey parent in Slave Lake is pursuing legal action against the league.
The Jasper Arena is also owed ice fees from a Hinton Wildcats game and practices.
Cold Lake Wings owner in 2018-19 and WPHA official, Derek Prue, denies that money is owed to these parties, that these businesses got value with their sponsorships, and that the league’s former partner, the Western States Hockey League is stirring up these claims.
Western Provinces Hockey Association
In 2018, the Western Provinces Hockey Association started four hockey teams in western Canada as partners with the Western States Hockey League: the Cold Lake Wings, Hinton Wildcats, Edson Aeros, and Meadow Lake Mustangs.
That partnership ended in May 2019 when the WSHL claimed that the WPHA did not pay their franchise fees.
A month later, the WPHA, which kept control of the Cold Lake Wings and Hinton Wildcats because they owned the teams, agreed to partner with the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League based in Ontario.
The Town of Hinton terminated their agreement with the WPHA and the Wildcats in June, “as a result of the Wildcats failing to pay the amounts required by the agreement,” the Town said on their Facebook.
Meanwhile, league expansion has continued for both the WPHA and WSHL.
The WPHA started franchises in Slave Lake (Ice Dogs), Enoch Cree Nation (Tomahawks) and Rosetown, Saskatchewan (Red Wings); the WSHL expanded to Hinton (Timberwolves), Cold Lake (Hornets), and Barrhead (Bombers), while retaining the Edson Aeros and Meadow Lake Mustangs.
‘I didn’t want to just pick up and leave’
The Cold Lake Wings hired Marek Babic in December 2018 as coach and general manager to replace Johnathan Aitken, the team’s first hire for the position.
Babic claims the Wings owe him $3400, most of March’s salary.
“That’s a substantial amount of money, especially since I have two young kids and you got bills to pay,” said the former Wings coach, who is now coaching in Italy.
When speaking to Lakeland Connect via video call he described how things “were shady from the get-go.”
He said he was not given proper access to the team’s financial accounts, dealt minimally with sponsor’s cheques, and bore the brunt of the billet’s criticism because they were not being paid for months at a time.
“I know I was continued to be blamed for things that happened. And I really think that’s unfair, especially for the fact that I moved my family in the middle of winter to this team and to get screwed over financially… and just overall it was a disaster.”
The team was struggling on the ice and off of it.
With a revolving door of players throughout the season, the team found little chemistry and won only four games in the 45 game regular season.
He described having to do a bottle drive for a series of days with the players to generate money for the billets, which has been confirmed by another source.
It was a real low point.
“That was completely humiliating. It was embarrassing,” he said.
“As a coach and already committed to the team, I didn’t want to just pick up and leave.”
Another sponsor who agreed to a deal for the 2019-20 season has been refused in trying to get $1000 back.
Jennifer Wychopen, Insurance Advisor – Brokerlink, signed a 2019-20 sponsorship in March.
When circumstances changed in July when she went on disability, she messaged the team that they could use the money as an anonymous donation.
After receiving automated replies through Facebook Messenger, Wychopen messaged the team again and said that she had heard of people not getting their money back.
She then asked for her $1000 back, but the Wings replied to Wychopen’s messages by saying the sponsorship contract was for “last season” and that it was not appropriate to ask for her donation back.
They told her to email their lawyer, which she did and she said she hasn’t heard from him.
“They can’t come into a community and rip us all off and expect us to support them,” Wychopen said.
“I know I’ll never see my thousand dollars.”
She was then banned from the Cold Lake Wings Facebook page, she said.
Puur Athletics became the team’s main sponsor mid-way through the 2018-19 season.
Although the business’s logo was on the home jerseys and the team held a Puur Athletics night during a home game, owner Jennifer Grey said that there were never advertisements on the stairs, glass, and on the ice like she was told there would be.
The $15,000 sponsorship contract states the deal was for 2019-20, but she said she wouldn’t have signed the deal in Jan. 2019, nor would the team gift her extra sponsorship she did receive, unless they had a deal for two seasons.
She said she became suspicious in March when Lauren Barr emailed her offering sponsorship packages for the 2019-20 season.
An outstanding bill remains for all the bussing services for road games provided in 2018-19.
Stingray Radio also claims they are owed $1827 by the Cold Lake Wings from radio advertisements.
Prue denies claims
WPHA official and owner of the Cold Lake Wings during the 2018-19 season, Derek Prue, denied the claims they owe money.
He said that former coach/GM Marek Babic’s claim of $3400 was “definitely not the case.”
“I’ll just say that our position is certainly not that he’s owed anything,” said Prue.
He added in a followup email that, “taking into account advances, rent, and other items that Marek Babic actually owes the Wings.”
He said that the bussing contract was a contra deal and that they never received invoices throughout the season if they did owe money.
When asked if the Wings are open to returning monies for sponsorships for the 2019-20 season, like in Wychopen’s case, he said that everything will be looked at case-by-case, but did not recall that specific sponsorship.
He added that Puur Athletics received value-added sponsorship in 2018-19 for being just a 2019-20 sponsor, he said, since there was no agreement for 2018-19.
Prue believes that the WSHL is fuelling some of these claims in staking out sponsorship territory for the new Cold Lake Hornets franchise.
“The WSHL lost five teams in the US last year and saw us start four from scratch, and they are trying to seize this opportunity by taking over existing teams and markets instead of finding new ones,” Prue said in an emailed statement.
“They (including the Commissioner [Ron White] himself) have been reaching out nonstop to players signed to GMHL contracts, and to the coaches, government officials, media, etc. to slander anyone and everyone associated with the WPHA.”
He also he would look into the Stingray Radio situation, adding that they had a “significant deal for trade with them.”
The claims of debts and unfulfilled services extend beyond Cold Lake.
Kelly Thorne, a hockey parent, has been working to get $2500 back from the WPHA after her son signed a contract for the 2019-20 season with the Hinton Wildcats.
Her son went to a WPHA camp in Edmonton this May and returned with a contract for the Wildcats.
However, the contract was unsigned, with no date, and with no mention of the Hinton Wildcats, but did say Slave Lake Ice Dogs multiple times in the contract’s wording.
Despite concerns, she decided to sign the deal for her son to play and sent the deposit.
After not having the second installment of the deposit accepted, she said she was told by the coach of the Wildcats Alex Polito of “what was going on.”
She emailed Derek Prue trying to get the $2500 money back, and was told by Prue on June 6 that there would be no refund without a copy of the contract and added later in the reply that the WPHA and/or Hinton Wildcats are not required to refund this deposit, which he said was clear in all WPHA contracts.
“It’s the kids, you know what I mean…he’s stealing everybody’s money and it’s the kids that it’s affecting. Yeah, we got our money stolen from us, but all of these kids who were so damn excited and played on the team and now it’s like, what are they doing?”
Prue said he did not recall having any conversations with Kelly Thorne or her son.
A Slave Lake hockey parent is also pursuing legal action after being mentioned in Lauren Barr’s (Derek Prue’s girlfriend) sworn affadavit on July 30 against ex-Slave Lake Ice Dog’s Todd White coach and general manager for reneging on his contract.
The Jasper Arena is also owed money from one Hinton Wildcats game and two practices in the 2018-19, which Prue said had been cleared up.
Wings find owner, coach/GM
The Cold Lake Wings appear to be moving forward to ice a hockey team next season.
The club announced yesterday that Troy Mick will take over as owner, and coach/GM for the next season.
Bob Russell, GMHL president, said in a printed story Aug. 19 on the league’s website that Edmonton based lawyer Jay Sawani is taking over as the team’s owner and President.