There’s nothing better than cruising down the highway in your own set of wheels, and now the Fort Frances Lakers can experience that sensation first-hand.
The new team bus comes courtesy of the Beyak Automotive Group, and Nick Beyak, along with other Beyak Automotive Group members, were on hand on Wednesday, September 1 to officially hand over the keys to the new bus to the Lakers players and coaching staff. The bus has been some time in the works, with original plans to get the Lakers on the road for the 2020-21 season. However, once that season fell apart due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plans for the bus were also pushed back. Beyak explained that everyone involved wanted to be sure there would be a season before the handover was made official.
“We just wanted to make sure the season was a go, because there is a lot to go into getting a machine of this size ready, operational and safe for the team,” Beyak said.
“We didn’t want to get it rolling until we knew there would be a season. We just went month by month, and now here we are.”
The impacts the new bus will have on the Lakers team is not to be downplayed. Team president Gary Silander explained that the new bus, entirely donated and brought up to safety standards by the Beyak Automotive Group, will be a significant contribution to the team and will greatly cut down some of their operations budget.
“This bus is going to make a $90,000 difference,” Silander said.
“We had to take a bus from International Falls all the time, so with the U.S. difference we were spending just about $90,000 for bussing purposes. The kids had to go across, get on the bus, come back here, stop and pick up their stuff, and then on the way back they had to drop their stuff off, go across to get their vehicles. This now is a one-stop shop. We couldn’t ask for any more, really.”
Silander said part of the problem, and related cost, associated with the former bus solution was the fact that there was no one in town who could accommodate their team and needs. Over the course of a regular season, the team travels anywhere between 5,000 to 6,000 kilometers. Now that the Lakers have their own coach bus, Silander said there are plans in the future to add to their insurance policy to allow the bus to be chartered for others in town to use. He added that there has already some interest in the bus from other organizations and groups.
“There’s an option there to support the team even more,” Silander said.
“The rental of the bus, we just have to cover ourselves with the extra insurance to do that.”
The bus will also feature spaces for sponsor logos, which will further support the team as they travel the district for their games. Several sponsor spaces have likewise been spoken for already, though the logos won’t go up until there are enough in waiting to get as much of them done as possible in one go.
Beyak and his automotive group have already made significant contributions to athletics in town, including working with the Rainy Lake Gymnastics Academy to get them a new home on Scott Street, and Beyak shared that working with the Lakers to get them a new bus is as much about the team as it is the community at large.
“It adds to the quality of life in our community, having the Lakers playing in a league that’s thriving,” Beyak said.
“It’s great entertainment for young people in particular. It develops young men, inspires young people both boys and girls to be hockey players and to compete. It’s just a great asset to our community. With how much spending these teams do on busses each year, it’s a big expense, it can make or break a team some years, depending on what’s going on. I thought this solution would allow them to have a lot less pressure and allow the team to thrive and spend money on things that will develop and improve the team, and entertainment for the people of Fort Frances.”
For their part, Silander says the players are just as excited to use the bus as the coaches are to get it. Last season the team was left using a school bus to get to their limited games, which Silander said was less than ideal.
“The players were crammed in, two in a seat, no space or room,” he said.
“You look in the new bus and there’s probably two seats for every one player, so they’ll have a little bit extra room. The TV’s working. Like I said, you couldn’t ask for any more.”
The Fort Frances Lakers will be headed to Thunder Bay on September 10 for their first pre-season away games, before taking on the Dryden Ice Dogs at the Dryden Memorial Arena on September 17. The first home game for the Lakers will take place on September 24 at the Ice for Kids Arena against the Dryden Ice Dogs.