The Superior International Junior Hockey League will expand back into Fort Frances this fall.
“It’s gonna happen, it’s as simple as that,” said SIJHL president and commissioner Ron Whitehead. “Fort Frances is definitely in the league.”
The league approved the move Saturday at its annual general meeting, ending a process that began late last year.
Whitehead had predicted last week that the move would be passed without incident, and confirmed “everything went smoothly” at Saturday’s meeting.
“Everybody welcomed them with open arms. There was no controversy,” he stressed.
The new franchise was purchased by Thunder Bay businesswoman Carolyn Kellaway.
She refrained from divulging too many details, including important specifics such as coaching staff and team name, until a press conference here this coming Saturday (June 16).
Kellaway did confirm she does not have ties to Fort Frances, but said she was impressed with the town’s support of hockey on previous visits here.
“We love the community, we really love the community,” she said last week.
“We thought we could bring some hockey to the town and with a little help form us and a lot of help from the community, we think we can have a successful team,” Kellaway added.
The new Junior ‘A’ team will need to fill its roster with teenage hockey talent.
“Each team is on its own” in terms of recruitment, Whitehead explained, noting there are no expansion drafts or similar player dispersions in the SIJHL.
In addition to players, the new team also will need to come up with staff.
The new team’s ownership already is working towards the first steps to staffing the team, filling positions for a P.A. announcer, goal judges, and the like, and will be meeting with prospective employees Saturday morning.
Wayne Strachan, current president of the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association and former head coach of the defunct Borderland Thunder, is rumoured to have been appointed coach of the new team.
He admitted last week that he has been approached by the franchise, but that “in fairness to the ownership, and they would like to announce it properly, I will not make a statement at this time.”
Whitehead confirmed the new team has arrangements in place for available ice, but that details on the team’s arrangement with the Memorial Sports Centre also would have to wait until Saturday’s announcement.
While the SIJHL is very much expansion-minded and the addition of another team brings some desired clout and recognition, Whitehead said bringing Fort Frances to the fold is something the league is particularly happy with.
He added the town is a natural location for expansion and admitted that everyone involved was quite pleased with the new franchise’s approval.
“I can see a couple advantages right off the bat. Renew your rivalry with Dryden, that’s a natural,” he said. “I think it’s a natural, if we’re ever going to expand south of the border, that Fort Frances is going to be the gateway.
“We never wanted to see you leave in the first place, let’s put it that way,” Whitehead added.
Fort Frances hasn’t had an SIJHL team since the Couchiching-owned Borderland Thunder folded after the 2003/04 season in hopes of eventually joining the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Former Thunder GM Brent Tookenay said Tuesday he wished the best for the new franchise and specifically Strachan—a friend of his. He added that, as a junior hockey fan, he would “definitely” get out to a couple of games.
“They got an awful lot of work ahead of them to get the team ready for September,” he warned. “It’s a big undertaking.
“Hopefully they have some deep pockets and if theyre going to do it, I hope they do it right,” Tookenay continued. “I hope things go all right.”