Efforts are in the works to bring Junior ‘A’ hockey to Fort Frances.
Shawn Jourdain, recreation director at Couchiching First Nation, recently was approached by Brent Tookenay with the idea to land a team here in the inaugural season of the Superior International Junior Hockey League (Tier II).
“We put in an application for a team and approached the chief and council [at Couchiching] to see if we could put down a deposit to show [SIJHL] we were interested,” Jourdain noted Tuesday.
He would not disclose the amount of money Couchiching put behind the effort but did say it was quite a bit.
“There are different numbers and figures and we don’t know how much it will cost,” he stressed. “We just put down enough money for them to know we are serious.”
The team would be owned by Couchiching but play its home games at the Memorial Sports Centre here in town.
Although the idea is still in the early stages of development, Jourdain said the reason they got involved was because so many kids have to travel so far away to play a higher calibre of hockey.
“A lot of players have to go away to play hockey and this will give them a reason to stay close to home,” Jourdain enthused.
The SIJHL executive was finalized at a general meeting back on Nov. 29 but proponents had started thinking about the new league last year when the Flyers left Thunder Bay.
Plans for a preliminary tournament are slated for next September, with the regular season officially getting underway later that month.
In a fax sent to the Times by the SIJHL, president Jerry Blazino said the league is planning on having two teams from Thunder Bay, with Nipigon, Fort Frances and an area First Nations all icing one team.
Coleraine, Mn. and Spooner, Wis. also have shown a strong interest to field teams.
“We can operate with five teams but we are hoping to have seven or eight teams,” Blazino remarked.
Meanwhile, Jourdain noted the team here would scout players aged 16-20 from all over Northwestern Ontario.
“Obviously, we will be doing some scouting. We will try out a pool of kids from all over the region from as far as Baudette,” he explained. “There will only be eight imports [players not from Northwestern Ontario] on the team.”
Jourdain admitted people are taking a chance getting involved in the fledgling league but stressed it will be good hockey, adding the players hopefully will land scholarships out of it.
He also said the team, which has yet to have a coach or name, will travel no further than 500 km for a hockey game.
Still, with such a large endeavour, Jourdain reasoned it will take a couple of years to get all the bugs out.
This would not be the first junior hockey team that has called Fort Frances home. The Royals were popular here for several years before they disbanded in 1974-75.