Storm success can be traced to ownership
And exactly where should we lay the accolades for the success of the Summerside Storm this season?
Right at the feet of the owners, that’s where.
Most of the time, owners of professional sports teams are mostly good only for complaining while they’re writing cheques, giving a coach they are about to fire a ‘vote of confidence,’ and pointing out every 23 seconds just how much money they are losing.
Too many of them have no concept that a sports team is actually a community trust, and that they are operating as the chief trustees. Of course, it is their money that’s being spent, and they are usually the most community-minded of all, as they are willing to bankroll a team for the community.
However, I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone who takes the time to read this column would be happy to put up the dough, too, if they had any (Humble Scribe included).
But we don’t.
Duncan Shaw and Darren MacKay, who apparently do have some, were kind enough to ante up last year when the reconstituted and renamed National Basketball League of Canada was looking for pigeons, um, expansion teams.
A professional basketball team for Prince Edward Island?
Unheard of. And where did they decide to locate it?
Summerside, of all places.
Summerside has to be the smallest place on the continent to host a pro basketball team, or maybe a pro-anything team.
Summerside had one thing going for it – the best arena in Atlantic Canada. Credit Union Place is a perfect size for the NBL of Canada, and it’s a tremendous venue for any sporting event.
On top of that, it had everything it needed for basketball (except a three-digit scoreboard!), courtesy of the 2009 Canada Games.
Nevertheless, a lot of real smart people thought the team was total folly, and gave it zero chance of succeeding.
But Shaw and MacKay made their first personnel choice a great one. They hired Joe Salerno, once with the wonderfully-named Vermont Frost Heaves, as coach. Salerno brought discipline, an understanding of small places and most importantly a keen eye for talent.
Then Shaw and MacKay, with the constant guidance of Billy Schurman, made the Storm an actual community team. The players were everywhere, at every possible event, and they still are. It’s hard to have a birthday party in this province without a Storm player leaning over your shoulder helping to blow out the candles.
Last year’s team didn’t make the playoffs, but nobody seemed to care. The two biggest crowds of the season showed up after they were eliminated.
The same management team has brought the Storm to the playoffs this season, mastering the waiver wire and treating certain franchises like farm teams (e.g. three key Storm players – Brandon Robinson, Josiah Turner, and Antoine Tisby – all were released by Halifax during the year).
And now their first playoff season starts with home games Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night, against the rampaging Windsor Express, who, like the Storm, finished on a seven-game winning streak.
On Jan. 27, the Express was 11-16 and miles from the playoffs. Who knew they were going to win 10 of their last 12 and finish third?
Why, Duncan Shaw, actually.
Once again, not your typical owner. It was on that date that he bet me Windsor would make the playoffs. A bet I gleefully accepted.
I hope he’s forgotten all about it.
Bob Gray is a freelance journalist with a long history of P.E.I. basketball reporting. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, and can be followed on Twitter @bgray5.