Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sabres to request leave of absence from SIJHL

Here we go again.
Local hockey fans hoped the memories of the Borderland Thunder’s disbandment in 2005 were ancient history—but old wounds were re-opened this week with word that the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres have asked for a one-year leave from the SIJHL.

“I’d rather not comment on specific details, but we’re taking it upon ourselves to leave and see how things pan out this year,” Sabres’ co-owner Scott Kellaway said Monday.
“I hear there are a lot more teams coming in next year, so it should be a lot better,” he added.
No specific reasons were given for the decision, but it likely stems from the current economic climate in Northwestern Ontario coupled with the recent uncertainty in the league following the departures of the Thunder Bay Bearcats and Schreiber Diesels.
The Thunder Bay-based K&A Wolverines joined the circuit last week, but with the Sabres’ decision, the SIJHL is back down to four teams, including the Fort William North Stars, Sioux Lookout Flyers, and Dryden Ice Dogs.
“There’s nothing more to blame than the economy,” SIJHL president Ron Whitehead said yesterday. “There’s nowhere in Northwestern Ontario that isn’t affected.
“It’s very difficult to get sponsors and do anything for that matter,” he added.
Whitehead said news of the Sabres’ plans was unexpected as he hadn’t yet spoken directly with the team’s ownership group.
“It’s just a matter of solidifying [what we have] and moving forward, but every time I try to move forward, I get another bombshell dropped on me,” he lamented.
“I think they [the Sabres] are going to be requesting a leave of absence for one year, as that’s what they said they’d do if they went this route.
“I haven’t had a chance to meet with any of the other owners or anything else, obviously,” Whitehead added. “Until I get a hold of some of the owners and have a meeting, I won’t know what our position is [on the news].”
“It definitely comes as a shock to me,” Sabres’ head coach Wayne Strachan said. “In March I asked to re-negotiate a new three-year deal and it was granted, [and] now today I am looking for work.
“With one year on my current contract remaining, and not knowing what will come of this, it’s definitely frustrating as it will be tough to find work in the hockey world for next season now,” he remarked.
Strachan also said to see what he, fellow staff, and volunteers have worked hard to build crumble in one fell swoop is hard to take right now.
“Something that a lot of people worked so hard to get going and build to what it has become today [is] gone now,” he said. “Hopefully, you will see the team return next season.
“I feel bad for our supporters, fans, and mostly for our players who now have to move and prove themselves somewhere else,” Strachan added.
“I will do whatever it takes for the players on the Sabres’ roster to find and be happy playing elsewhere in junior hockey.”

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