There may be no ice in the Charlottetown Civic Centre, no hockey games to watch and some warm weather, but that doesn’t mean the Business and Hockey Operations staff of the P.E.I. Rocket aren’t busy.
The Rocket off-season is one of the busiest times of the year for both departments, especially from April to June as they make preparations for next season. Vice President of Operations for the P.E.I. Rocket, Trent Birt, said work for next season began just two hours after the team’s last game on March 18.
“Gordie (Dwyer), Serge (Savard Jr.) and I didn’t leave the rink until after midnight that night and we just talked about the past year and things we can do moving forward, both hockey wise and business wise. This communication and effort with everyone in the organization has only increased since then”
Hockey wise, there are ongoing player evaluations of guys on the current roster as well as prospects on the protected list, scouting assignments, and compiling a list of draft eligible players for QMJHL Entry Draft on June 9 in Quebec City. Also, choosing the players the club would protect in the upcoming expansion draft had to be done this spring as well.
It’s a never-ending process, said Birt.
“On the hockey side, you are constantly evaluating what you have and searching for ways to get better. Business wise, it’s the same. You start with what is working well and what we can do to improve our product off the ice.”
Products off the ice include deliverables to the team’s sponsors, enhancing fan experience at the games and ways to make the team accessible to the community. This past season, the team was at more than 60 corporate, charity and community events, said Birt.
“We want to continue to build good relations all through the Island.”
That’s the goal in the end, said Birt.
“We want to have a great product on the ice and we want to provide and give our team to the community outside the rink. That’s something we started to work more on last May and something we will continue to work on here.”
The team has to keep the sponsors happy and at the same time recruit new corporate partners. The same thing goes for the fans as the team caters to its loyal fans while recruiting news folks into their building. The staff has to continue to focus on the things that worked and make them better while fixing the things that didn’t go so well and implement new ideas, said Birt.
“If we aren’t moving forward, we’re falling behind. I don’t have any desire to sit still.”
Also during the off-season, the team wants to make sure it is reaching out to all supporters to make sure they know how much they are appreciated. General fans and sponsors are easily recognizable supporters but it goes much deeper than that. The team has many volunteers and those that cheer from afar as well.
“Any support at all given to this organization doesn’t go unnoticed,” said Birt.
One group of unsung heroes is the billet families. 20-25 families open their doors to the players each year and they are responsible for getting the guys ready to practice and play each day.
The club has a really good group of billet families, said Birt.
“One of the things that came to me through the exit meetings with our players is how great the billets were. So we’ve got to continue to support and have good relations with our billets to keep the ones we have while opening doors to others.”
There are lots of great ideas, energy and passion in the organization, said Birt.
“We will continue to work day and night to make this franchise the full part of the community because being good off the ice will help develop a winner on the ice and that’s the ultimate goal.”
The Savard’s have real commitment in making the team better, said Birt.
“We are obviously in a situation where we want to get better and they’ve given us the support to do so.”
There are many positives to build on after not making the playoffs this past season, said Birt.
“It started with providing our young guys with opportunities to develop and adding to our draft picks for the upcoming draft as well. It’s certainly a true rebuild and we’re going to get there eventually.”
The work began on season tickets shortly after the season ended. Birt put together an advisory group, which had a couple of two-hour meetings already and they will be meeting more. A lot of ideas came out of those meetings.
One of the areas everyone in the organization, as well as the advisory group, evaluated were season ticket packages. Management wanted to keep the price the same while also adding value. In doing so, they added six new incentives for everyone while adding some unique items to be drawn for.
Some of these items include an autographed Serge Savard Sr. jersey and stick for those signed up for season tickets before June 1.
This idea came after Birt and Serge Savard Sr. had a conversation about where season ticket numbers were to date. Savard was impressed with those numbers so he wanted to give those that purchased an additional opportunity to be rewarded.
“We see the big picture and we are moving forward as we execute our plan. We are continuously evaluating things and taking input from others as we strive to get better in all areas,” said Birt.
As for the in-game experience, the team is always looking to enhance the experience.
Last year for example, the club added Candace Woodside for in-game interviews with fans and players during breaks, there was an improvement in concessions, and adding the Vogue Optical Shoot for the Stars program as well as the Ultramar Warm Up with the Rocket were huge hits in the rink and community.
Birt put a request into the league to have the opening weekend on home ice this year.
“The league granted that and we want to make that a special weekend,” said Birt.
This year will mark the 10th anniversary for the P.E.I. Rocket and the club wants it to be a special weekend.
“Are we looking at enhancing our game day experience? Yes. Do we know exactly what we can do or will do? No, but we’re certainly working on it. PEI is a hockey hot bed and we will give fans what they want,” said Birt.
The P.E.I Rocket will open the season on Friday September 21 when they host the Moncton Wildcats at 7 p.m. Then they host the Halifax Mooseheads on Sunday September 23.