Anyone with Dec. 7 circled as a must-see game for the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres might want to consider another night to see the best the SIJHL has to offer.
That’s because the visiting Schreiber Diesels—the reigning SIJHL champs and a textbook example of how to turn an expansion franchise into a success—will be a hollow shell of the team that last season upset the Fort William North Stars in the playoffs.
“Plain and simple, there’s no kids,” laughed Diesels’ owner and general manager Bill MacLaurin. “No one came back—I think I have two returning.”
The Diesels, on top of losing the vast majority of its roster, have yielded very little interest from tryouts. They currently have nine players on their roster, including two goalies.
“Outside of that, that’s pretty much it,” MacLaurin said.
“It’s hard to believe there’s no interest in getting kids to come back here,” he added. “It might be the town, there’s nothing to do. Word might’ve gotten around. . . .”
SIJHL president Ron Whitehead chalked up a lot of the Diesels’ problems to the curse of a pro team winning a championship. The team’s young players won the playoff crown in just their second year, “and now they think they’re all superstars. . . .”
“A lot of their players don’t want to come back, don’t want to play there this year, so they’re testing the waters, so to speak,” Whitehead added.
He said teams in Schreiber’s situation can face “a paperwork nightmare” trying to just get enough jerseys on the ice.
“It’s difficult for ownership to get some new players in here on short notice . . . there’s no sense putting kids on the ice that don’t want to be there,” he reasoned.
MacLaurin has been busy, and has made some deals with rival clubs—most of which have proved fruitless so far. He’s scoured Schreiber and Terrace Bay for talent, but many of the hockey-playing local youths have since moved on and have now graduating high school.
He was working Monday on a deal to bring “five or six players from North Bay”—backed into a situation where he now has to buy his players in bulk.
“It just doesn’t get any easier. I think the first year, we were a lot better off than we are right now,” MacLaurin noted. “The boys we got are good, quality players, but we don’t have enough.”
The Diesels didn’t schedule any pre-season match-ups, and so haven’t had to disappoint fans with cancelled or lacklustre games. But the team is slated to face the North Stars to open the season this Friday.
“We’re supposed to,” MacLaurin laughed. “We’ll get our [butt] kicked worse than you guys [Sabres] did last night [Sunday].”
Right now, all teams are equal in the SIJHL’s standings, but the Schreiber Diesels appear to have gone from the perfect example of how things can go right in the SIJHL to the perfect example of how things can go wrong.
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