Today in FHL history: The Cornwall Nationals fold

One year ago today, the one of the FHL’s two Canadian teams called it quits, with the Cornwall Nationals announcing in a release on the team Facebook page (which is still up for some reason) that the team was done, effective immediately.

Here’s what that release said:

~~CORNWALL NATIONALS FOLD~~
CORNWALL – The Cornwall Nationals of the Federal Hockey League have ceased operations, effective immediately.
“This is a really sad day for hockey in Cornwall,” said Rodney Rivette, owner/president. “Unfortunately, due to our financial situation, we can no longer continue.”
Saturday night’s attendance was announced at 358 in what turned out to be the team’s last game at the Ed Lumley Arena inside the civic complex.
“We’ve exhausted every avenue possible to save the team,” said Rivette. “This is so unfortunate because owner Will Beauvais has done everything possible to make this work.”
The organization would like to thank its small but loyal fan base as well as all local sponsors, staff and volunteers.

The Nationals were always a weird team and fit for the FHL. They were close to teams in Berlin and Watertown, but the town of Cornwall already had an established junior team in the Cornwall Colts, who were the main tenants at Ed Lumley Arena, and outdrew the Nationals in both seasons the teams shared the arena. Not to mention the town had pro hockey for four years before the Nationals in the form of the bigger, better LNAH Cornwall River Kings, and despite that team drawing far more fans than the Nationals did, they only lasted four seasons.

In all, the Nationals lasted nearly two full seasons, playing 103 games over their existence in the FHL, and posting a mark of 38-59-6, missing the playoffs in 2016-17 by 35 points, finishing in sixth place in the then-seven team FHL, then folding while in fourth place during the abbreviated second season.

Notable players from that first season included forward MJ Graham, who led the team in scoring with 71 points in 49 games, Sylvester Bzdyl who had 50 points in 53 games, and Maxime Guyon, who had 36 points in 19 games before he was traded to Berlin.

The second season looked like it had promise for the Nationals after they acquired the FHL’s all-time leading scorer, Ahmed Mafouz in an off-season trade, and at one point the team was in second place in the FHL standings before things headed south on the ice, in the stands, and in the front office. All three of those things tying back into each other.

The team reportedly stopped paying some players and coaches, and as players bailed on the team, their record got worse and worse, eventually ending at 18-25-0-3, sitting in fourth place at the time they went under with 12 games remaining on the schedule.

The final game for the Nationals took place on February 17, 2018 when the host Nationals crushed the North Shore Knights by the final score of 13-6. Daniel Martin posted three goals and two assists in the win, while Justin Portillo, Jakob Smith, and Brandon Vuic each netted four points. MJ Graham also added a hat-trick in the win, as every player on the Nats roster that night registered at least one point. There were 358 people in the stands for the game.

The league then held a dispersal draft for the remaining five teams to scoop up any Nationals players they wanted, including Mafouz going to the Danville Dashers, and Guyon heading to the Carolina Thunderbirds.

Some of the remaining players stuck around to play on the Northern Federals, a travel-only team that…only traveled to Watertown for a few games so the Wolves could round out their remaining home schedule. The Feds went 0-3 against the Wolves, getting outscored 31-8 in those three games.

But perhaps the most memorable thing from that second season, and probably team history, occurred on December 16, 2017 when the team’s Head of Marketing sent a letter to a local news paper blasting the town’s people for not coming to the games, and questioning if Cornwall was in fact a good hockey town.

As you can guess, things didn’t get any better at the gate after that, despite the team doing all it could to try to lure in new fans. I can specifically remember a couple of weekends where the team was giving away a brand new HDTV to one fan that weekend…if the crowd was more than 1,500 people. Needless to say, I don’t think they ever gave away that TV.

After the Nationals folded, the North Shore Knights folded during the off-season and the FHL has been without a Canadian team ever since. While there have been some rumors of the FHL returning to Canada, nothing solid has emerged for a possible expansion team.

So here’s to the Cornwall Nationals, who are certainly not the worst FHL team to ever grace the ice, but one that went the way of so many FHL teams before them: Gone before the season ended.

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