New team not enough to bring Thunder back

Bill MacLaurin, owner of the K&A Golden Hawks and now owner of the new Schreiber Stars, said he would have “no objections at all” if the Borderland Thunder wanted to return to the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
“When the Thunder decided to leave, I felt that somebody had to do something,” said MacLaurin. “This is part of the reason I did what I did, and that was to give them a push [to come back to the league].”
But will it be a big enough push?
“I don’t know,” MacLaurin admitted.
Thunder general manager Brent Tookenay was much more forceful with his reply. “Billy’s got wishful thinking going on,” he remarked.
“What he’s trying to do is get another team and get us to come back, and then all of a sudden it’s a six-team league,” Tookenay noted. “But the people involved with the Thunder are not sold on what has happened, plus we still don’t have any ownership in place.”
The team also doesn’t have any players, having given them their releases a short time ago (most of those players have since signed on with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League).
But there was mumbling last week around the SIJHL’s first-ever draft indicating the Thunder might be coming back.
You see, out of the 60 Northwestern Ontario players aged 17-18 drafted by the five SIJHL teams last Wednesday night in Thunder Bay (12 by each team), only one was from Rainy River District.
That player was Jared Wood of Atikokan, who was drafted by Schreiber after playing a partial season with the Thunder last year.
Which suggested one of two things: 1). minor hockey associations in this area aren’t producing junior-calibre players or 2). the Thunder would be coming back.
But since they released last season’s players, they would need to have a pool of players to pick from that weren’t protected by the other teams (players chosen can still move on to other leagues).
“There is no truth to that whatsoever,” said Tookenay, who offered another explanation as to why only one player from Rainy River District was chosen.
“The reason why the guys weren’t drafted here was because the number-one thing here is high school hockey and nobody knows high school hockey except for Dryden and Fort Frances,” he argued.
(Dryden selected five players who played in NorWOSSA last season).
“So how is Thunder Bay going to pick any of these guys?” Tookenay wondered. “How do they know about Tyler Miller? How do they know about Jason Green? How do they know about guys like that?
“They don’t.”
So that covers the draft aspect, but what was the Thunder’s reaction to Schreiber joining the SIJHL? And more importantly, about MacLaurin owning two teams?
“It should be interesting,” said Tookenay. “I think Billy’s heart is in the right place, there’s no doubt about that, but I don’t know if it’s right the way he’s going about it.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea for him to own both teams.”
MacLaurin has said the only reason why he decided to own the Schreiber team was because “nobody [in Schreiber] would make the initial commitment, but I’m sure it’s going to come and that people will want to get on board.”
And though Tookenay doesn’t “want to sound like a pessimist,” he has a number of questions, including whether Schreiber is the answer for the SIJHL?
“They need to have their own ownership down there and they need to have their own product down there,” he argued. “And that’s going to be difficult.
“I would assume that they would have a trial basis because that town also has a Junior ‘B’ that they need to support,” Tookenay remarked.
At least, Schreiber did have a Junior ‘B’ team to support. The Aquasabon River Rats announced last weekend that they would not be playing this upcoming season.
As such, MacLaurin will be looking to “tap into the same resources the River Rats did and maybe some extra ones.”
But another question Tookenay asks is this—if MacLaurin wants the Thunder back in the SIJHL so badly, and since he knew the main obstacle facing the Thunder was that they didn’t have any owners, why didn’t MacLaurin take over the reins of the Thunder instead of going to Schreiber?
“If he wanted to own another team, why didn’t he approach us? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Tookenay said.
“It did cross my mind, but they kept saying that they were talking to people so that kept me at a distance,” noted MacLaurin. “Geographically, it’s a little far for me [Schreiber is two hours east of Thunder Bay, which is where MacLaurin lives].
“I can have a little more hands-on approach with Schreiber than I would with Fort Frances.”
And as previously mentioned, MacLaurin’s intent was never to gain full ownership of the team in Schreiber. He’s hopeful he won’t have to support the team for long, as he would prefer the Stars to be in the hands of an owner from the Schreiber area.
“I just want to get this program going,” he said. “Hopefully I don’t have to run it forever, maybe at the very most two years, and hopefully I can get the program good enough where another group will look after it.”
And though it looks doubtful the Thunder will return to the SIJHL next season, MacLaurin said he won’t give up trying.
“All it would take is a letter to [Hockey Northwestern Ontario] to say they’re in,” said MacLaurin.