Canberra Knights players, Jordie Gavin, Maxime Suzzarini from France and Mark Rummukainen in April 2013. Photo: Melissa AdamsA lack of local players and increasing financial costs are the reasons behind one of Canberra’s longest-running national sporting teams folding after 33 years.
Established in 1981, the Canberra Knights announced on Wednesday they had pulled out of the Australian Ice Hockey League just six weeks before the start of the season.
Knights owner John Raut, who runs the Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre, met with team captain Mark Rummukainen and fellow veteran Jordan Gavin on Monday night to discuss his concerns.
Players trained on Tuesday night before being told on Wednesday, either by email or through the team’s Facebook page, that the Knights had withdrawn from the AIHL.
Raut said the team cost between $160,000 and $170,000 per season to run and annual losses were between $10,000 and $20,000.
The Knights received a $29,000 national sporting team grant from the ACT government, which they will return.
Raut also pointed to the team’s lack of Canberra-based players and lowly position on the table over the past few seasons.
”We were offered an extra two import places for this season, but it wouldn’t have solved the situation because the local talent we have is two or three years away before we have the numbers so we can field a competitive team,” Raut said.
”We have the best fans in Australia and that hurts too, knowing we’re going to disappoint all those people.
”The bottom line is, do we keep throwing money out and accepting a loss as we have in the last couple of seasons and not be able to do Canberrans proud by putting a competitive side on the ice?”
The Knights were founded the same year as the Canberra Raiders and 15 years before the ACT Brumbies were admitted into the Super Rugby competition.
They are the latest in a long line of Canberra sporting teams to fall by the wayside, following the likes of the Canberra Cannons in the NBL and defunct NSL side the Canberra Cosmos.
Rummukainen has been with the Knights since 1998.
He is uncertain of his playing future after he tours Serbia with the Australian team in April.
”When I came into the team it was a fight to get into the team, a fight for ice time, and the last couple of years it’s definitely dropped off,” he said.
”Last year it was a case of if you can play, you’re on the team.
”I’ve got two young kids, so I could play for the national team and hang the skates up after that.”
The move leaves the AIHL with seven teams – two each in Sydney and Melbourne and ones in Adelaide, Newcastle and Perth.
AIHL deputy commissioner Alex Lata said it was disappointing to lose the Knights from the competition given the fantastic crowd support the team enjoys.
”It’s a bit of a shock,” Lata said.
”Canberra fans are renowned around the league for being very passionate and determined.
”We definitely want to have a presence in Canberra.”