Hockey Northwestern Ontario has denied a request by the Borderland Thunder to join the Manitoba Junior Hockey League from the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
The 12-man board, which met Jan. 29, nixed the Thunder’s request to join the MJHL next season, meaning the team now will have to take their request to the next level—the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
“The SIJHL has basically denied the request, and Hockey Northwest is not going to grant us permission, as well, so right now we’re taking it to another level,” said Thunder general manager Brent Tookenay.
“We’re still working at it, and we’re very optimistic about being able to do this,” he added.
The Dryden Ice Dogs also are seeking permission to switch leagues, and have been partnering with the Thunder.
Both teams have cited dwindling attendance and fiscal downfall as reasons for wanting to switch to the MJHL, which features 11 teams competing in two divisions.
“The SIJHL is a good league, but they haven’t approached it the right way and they haven’t planned for the future of the league whereas other leagues in Canada do that,” charged Tookenay.
“[Fort Frances and Dryden] both have the same concerns because basically we don’t know what’s going to happen with the SIJHL,” he added.
“But if we can’t attract people to invest in a team when they are in a five-team league, then you’re basically asking them for a donation, not an investment,” he argued.
“They feel their fans are dwindling in that they think a five-team league is boring,” noted SIJHL vice-president Ron Whitehead.
“The arguments were put forth that even though the MJHL has 11 teams, that after the first season or so, the same as with this league, the fans will show up and eventually die off.”
According to Hockey Canada, there is little wiggle room for teams to switch leagues, said Whitehead.
“Hockey Canada’s rules are such in that if there’s a league for you to play in within your own branch, then you cannot get permission to go to some other branch,” he noted.
“No one is trying to harm Fort Frances or Dryden, but that’s the existing rules and since there is a league for them to play in, then permission wasn’t going to be forthcoming,” he remarked.
The MJHL has been in operation for 87 years, making it Canada’s longest-running Junior ‘A’ league. The SIJHL—and the Thunder—came into being in 2001.
Tookenay looks at the MJHL’s stability as one of the main reasons for wanting to join.
“We want to see this team stay here and we feel the only way we can do this is through the MJHL,” Tookenay said.
The MJHL was interested in luring both the Thunder and Ice Dogs before the season began when it was looking for applications for expansion franchises.
“We’d be very interested at looking at an application from a community like Fort Frances,” MJHL commissioner Kim Davis had said last June.
“I think they’re very excited for us to join the league,” said Tookenay. “It’s just we’re hitting some road blocks here. We’re just going to see what happens, I guess.”