With just a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross, it looks like Junior ‘A’ hockey will hit the ice in Fort Frances for the 2001/02 season.
The seven-team Superior International Junior Hockey League, including the Borderland Thunder, was unveiled Friday morning during a press conference at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay.
“I can finally announce the Superior International Junior Hockey League is now a reality,” SIJHL president Jerry Blazino enthused in his opening remarks.
“Through dedication to the league and the players, it has now become real.”
Thunder Bay Mayor Ken Boshcoff was on hand to congratulate the group on getting the league together.
“We are going to do what we do best—coaching and mentoring,” he noted. “It is going to be a tremendous success. Congratulations.”
Boshcoff said he hopes the SIJHL will keep young people in Northwestern Ontario and give them something to aspire to.
“We want to do this to keep our kids at home,” agreed Shawn Jourdain, president of the Borderland Thunder.
Rounding out the league will be the Thunder Bay Wolves, KC Exterior Finishing Sabres of Thunder Bay, the Feathermen Hawks First Nations (based in Thunder Bay), Dryden, and two U.S. teams—the Northern Wisconsin Knights from Spooner, Wis. and the Coleraine Yellowjackets.
Jim Franzese, representing the Thunder Bay Wolves, said he was happy to be a part of the league. “I am proud to be in this league and I hope to stop players from leaving,” he stressed.
George Adams, the Dryden Junior ‘A’ rep, echoed Franzese’s comments but also admitted it will be tough to get everything going.
“It will be tough,” he noted. “We have guys [picked for the team] and we have asked [some guys] but we don’t have the players.”
Adams said they are waiting for financial support before they really get into the scouting.
But Todd Fucile, representing the KC Sabres, stressed he is very excited for the league because it will be good for the town.
“I can’t wait,” he remarked Friday morning between bites of his sandwich. “There are going to be some beautiful rivalries, especially between Fort Frances and Thunder Bay.”
When asked what he thought would bring players to the league, Fucile quickly replied, “Because we’re good.”
“We will have good coaching and that is what you need,” he added. “They are going to learn from us and move on to something better. This is where they will polish themselves.”
He stressed that like anything, if the league is good and strong after the first year, then the kids will stay.
Sam Winters, who sits on the SIJHL’s board of directors, agreed this league will give players a chance to land scholarships down the road.
“There is more opportunity down east,” he remarked. “So they are going to leave. It is just a matter of when.”
Winters added it’s just a fact of life that some kids have the talent to move on.
The new league will be governed by CHA rules, which permits women to try out.
“It is up to the team to decide. If they are good enough to hold that calibre, then why not?” reasoned Wayne Salatino, the junior convener for Hockey Northwestern Ontario.
Salatino admitted women don’t usually play with men at that level of hockey but stressed if they can hold up to the bump and grind, then go for it.
He also enthused, like many of the others at the press conference, that a league like this is a long time coming.
“It was nice to see Fort Frances and Dryden show an interest but I am surprised no one from Kenora sparked an interest,” he said.