Court battle shaping up in Thunder fight to join MJHL

The Borderland Thunder’s campaign to join the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) has hit another road block.
First, their current league—the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL)—denied them permission to leave. Hockey Northwestern Ontario (HNO) then denied their proposal, as well.
Now the MJHL, in a recent press release, has announced “that the league will not be expanding outside of the province of Manitoba at this time.”
Also affected by the decision are the Dryden Ice Dogs, who were looking to leave the five-team SIJHL and become part of the 11-team MJHL, too.
“It wasn’t as though the teams were rejected. We received their applications and would look at them under the condition that they get permission [to leave the SIJHL],” said MJHL commissioner Kim Davis.
“I would categorize [the Thunder’s] reaction as certainly one of disappointment, but they were understanding of our decision,” Davis added.
So that’s the end of that, right? Wrong.
The Thunder and Ice Dogs now will be heading to the courts for a “human rights” case against the HNO, arguing the HNO doesn’t have the right to tell them where they can or cannot do business.
“Basically we’re a business and they can’t tell us where we can do business,” said Thunder general manager Brent Tookenay.
“We have the opportunity to go somewhere where we can make ends meet [in the MJHL] and they [HNO] shouldn’t be able to hold us from going there,” he added.
But time is against them.
The MJHL must have next season’s schedule in place by early June, but even if a favourable decision by the courts can be reached by then, it’s still a toss-up if the Thunder and Ice Dogs will be accepted into the MJHL, as stated in the league’s press release.
“I think if the circumstances changed, then the possibility could exist for them to join,” said Davis, who declined to be more specific.
“I would hope that they would really consider having us in because we already have a lot of things in place already,” said Tookenay.
“I think that’s something they would have to consider because if they would say, ‘Wait a year,’ then we have to shut down and it would be tough to start back up again,” he argued.
Tookenay believes if a court decision isn’t reached by May, then the Thunder and Ice Dogs’ chances of joining the MJHL for the 2005-06 season would be as minuscule as Saddam Hussein’s chances of being pardoned.
“The MJHL can’t make accommodations for us because then that would hurt what they have built over the years,” said Tookenay. “We appreciate their patience, and I understand their standpoint in terms that they can’t move on our proposal.”
But suppose the Thunder and Ice Dogs are still fighting in the courtroom come May. What about staying in the SIJHL until a decision is reached?
“I just can’t see us going back to the SIJHL and losing money. I really don’t know what the future holds [for the Thunder],” Tookenay warned.
“We’ve appreciated the SIJHL and all the hard work they have put in, and bringing excitement to the town of Fort Frances and Couchiching,” he added.
“It has brought along a lot of good memories and bad ones, like [last Tuesday night’s brawl], but that’s part of the whole thing with junior hockey.”
So like the big apple in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the countdown is on with the future of the Thunder on the line. But unlike New Year’s, which represents both an end and a new beginning, the chances of seeing the Thunder reborn look slim.
“Everybody would lose out by not having a junior hockey team here and it would be a very sad day,” Tookenay said.