In an attempt to rebound from a less-than-spectacular season which saw the Thunder Bay Flyers finish out of the USHL playoffs once again, six players from the Muskies have been invited to a rookie camp in Kenora in August.
Chuck Arpin, Ryan Armstrong, Aaron Grynol, Frank Redford, Dale Jerry, and Jon Lloyd were sent invitations for the two-day camp by Shane Baker, who approached the Flyers about becoming a scout in the district this season.
Since Christmas, Baker has scoured rinks looking for talent that he hopes could someday crack the Flyers’ lineup.
"They told me to look for some natural goal scorers because they already had grinders," said the Alberta native, who is a First Nations police officer on Couchiching.
Baker also has expressed interest in Joe Hupet, who plays for the Legion in the local Midget house league, and two unconfirmed players from the Rainy River Rebels.
He also has sent out invitations to players from the Dryden Eagles, Red Lake Rams, and one from the Sioux Lookout Warriors.
But he warned the players had better come to camp in shape.
"It’s good, fast hockey so the players better be ready because in the rookie camp they’re going to be playing against the best of the best," said Baker.
"And then if they make it to the main camp, they’ll be going against guys who have been playing junior for the last two or three years," he added.
Flyers’ coach Doug Colbon, who took over behind the bench after former coach Dave Bragnalo resigned in mid-season, said Thunder Bay used to get its "fair share" of Fort Frances players but added that has changed in recent years.
"The numbers have dwindled and died," he said. "I don’t know if the players have become disinterested or what."
Muskie head coach Glen Edwards noted the option for players heading to the Lakehead to play junior hockey has always been there but added it has simply become a fact of not having the talent to play at that level.
"I’m not surprised that we have [six] kids going to the rookie camp," he noted. "But I would be surprised if we have [six] go to their main camp."
Edwards’ son, Jeff, currently with the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, and Wayne Strachan, now with the Roanoke Express of the East Coast Hockey League, are both recent Flyer alumni still playing at either the college or pro level.
And Rustyn Dolyny, currently enjoying a banner freshman season with the Michigan State Spartans, was heavily recruited to suit up for Thunder Bay but instead chose to go the U.S. collegiate route.
Edwards said Thunder Bay relies heavily on signing talented Northwestern Ontario players because of its out-of-area restrictions. Those restrictions have dragged down a once dominating program that has since struggled to make the league playoffs.
Colbon said up to 13 players could be back with the Flyers next season, leaving 10 spots open for rookies.
Although he admitted to not knowing the talents of all the players invited to the rookie camp, he hinted Grynol most likely would be among the ones invited to the main camp in Thunder Bay.