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Trois-Rivieres could be a good QMJHL market, but is it worth the cost to the Shawinigan Cataractes?

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Montreal Canadiens president Geoff Molson is reportedly an investor in the Trois-Rivieres group (The Canadian  …

The mayor of Trois-Rivières, Que., isn't really threatening the Shawinigan Cataractes to accept a QMJHL competitor within their protected territory, but he kind of did earlier this week.

Perhaps Google Translate lost something, but did you see what Trois-Rivières mayor Yves Lévesque, who is pushing a plan to build a $50-million arena, did there? Earlier this week, reports surfaced about an effort to move a team from the Maritimes to Trois-Rivières. The bid has enough heavy hitters behind it, such as former Cataractes president Réal Breton and Montreal Canadiens CEO Geoff Molson, to demand that it be taken seriously. The Cataractes would have to sign off on it by waiving their veto, which would put an estimated one-third of their corporate support that comes from the larger city of Trois-Rivières at risk. Lévesque's rationale for why the Cataractes, who have had the Mauricie region to themselves for 20 years, should be on board with this?

— Either Trois-Rivières gets a major junior team or "it will look for the American League," which would require an even larger seating capacity and operating budget than a Q team. In other words, accept a huge threat to your bottom line or the gigantic one.

— Trois-Rivières would not stand in the way of Shawinigan getting back in the league if the roles were reversed. Easy for him to say.

If a major junior hockey team was like any other business then sure, the QMJHL should re-establish a team in Trois-Rivières and not worry too much about what it does to the Cataractes, who have survived against the odds and a declining local economy for more than 40 years, which culminated with those magical days in late May in 2012. Trois-Rivières (pop. 131,000) is more than twice the size of Shawinigan (55,000 strong). It probably has more capacity for growth, so it makes dollars and sense that it would make sense to bring the QMJHL back to a city whose old Draveurs franchise was done in by ineffectual ownership.

Sports is not received that way, of course, especially in the CHL. Major junior teams, the well-run ones at least, are part of a community's mosaic in a way that overrides the actual ownership and the balance sheets. That exists in Shawinigan, even though the Cataractes had neve won a post-season championship before capturing the Memorial Cup last May 27. It has continued on through this season's post-Cup comedown, with the Cats averaging 3,100 fans — excellent by the standards of QMJHL teams outside of hub cities such as Halifax, Quebec and Saint John — even while their denuded roster has posted the worst record in the whole CHL at 9-28-3-2.

Trois-Rivières, at least based on population, makes sense as a QMJHL market. It's a larger city than most centres in the QMJHL and offers good educational opportunities through the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR). This isn't as far-fetched as any of the ideas for saving the Lewiston MAINEiacs that were floated around in 2011 before that team bit the dust (Summerside, P.E.I.; Fredericton, N.B., and so on). But at the same time, Shawinigan has stayed in continuous operation while its rival city to the east has been out of the game since 1992.

That track record ought to count for something. A troubled franchise — the Acadie-Bathurst Titan? — moving to Trois-Rivières just means a different franchise has one skate on a banana peel. It might be possible that two teams could co-exist in such close proximity even though the cost of running a team is so much higher than it was a quarter-century ago. But a well-bankrolled team in Trois-Rivières certainly could put a major squeeze on Shawinigan. And having the AHL threat thrown in its face shouldn't make any impartial observer feel good.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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