Future of SIJHL up in the air

Losing a team right after a season starts is never a good thing for any league.
But when you potentially could lose a second team a couple of months later, then a number of questions have to be asked, especially when it comes to the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
Back in October, the Sioux Lookout Flyers suspended operations just three games into the 2012-13 campaign, with a lack of players among the multitude of reasons cited. Now, just three months later, the Duluth Clydesdales find themselves in a similar situation over a lack of players, which forced the cancellation of their last three games.
However, no one seems to have an idea what’s happening next with the franchise, with rumours and hearsay abounding on the Internet.
Over the weekend, there was talk the team either had folded or was suspended from play by the league itself.
Now, following the cancellation of last night’s game in Thunder Bay against the North Stars, the Clydesdales have said the league voted to eliminate them while the SIJHL has remained quiet on the matter.
All in all, it’s an utter mess.
From the Clydesdales’ side of things, the organization said in an interview with the Junior Hockey News blog, and in a post on the SIJHL’s message board, that it had enough players to meet the league’s roster requirements and that players also were committed to finish out the rest of what had been a rough campaign for the 2-32-0-1 squad.
The Clydesdales had shown some improvement in recent games, however, and it is disappointing for those involved with the team, including the players who gave it their all night after night and the fans who supported them through the rough times.
But the bigger questions for me revolve around the SIJHL, especially when it comes to its future.
While I don’t expect the league to make statements day in and day out on what the situation is with the Clydesdales, the fact the continued rumours about the club’s future have grown over the last few days without an official quote from the league—other than small blurbs from commissioner Ron Whitehead—is quite alarming.
Since most fans aren’t visiting message boards or blogs on a daily basis, at least some sort of statement on the SIJHL’s official website would be beneficial for all parties.
However, what’s more worrisome is that the league could find itself down to five teams for the final stages of the regular season, which may lead to some changes for those few scheduled games and the post-season.
While the league has been largely competitive so far, other than the runaway leaders in the Minnesota Wilderness, how viable is the SIJHL going to be with just five teams?
Granted, the Flyers might return when the 2013/14 season rolls around, but I find it hard to see a team that nearly shut down due to financial issues in 2011 being able to come back after a season away.
Over the past few years, teams in Thunder Bay, Marathon, Schreiber, and here in Fort Frances have vanished from the SIJHL, but the league has continued on.
But given the current economic climate we’re living in, and the ever-present possibility that the American teams could move onto another league under the USA Hockey banner, it might be getting harder and harder to see the SIJHL continuing in its current form.
And what that means for the three Canadian-based teams, including the Fort Frances Lakers, is anybody’s guess.