Schreiber signs on with SIJHL

Four or five teams? That was the question those involved with the Superior International Junior Hockey League were asking themselves as the past few weeks have played out with more twists and turns than something inked by William Shakespeare.
The answer? Well, it’s not four or even five teams, but six.
First there was Schreiber inking a deal with the SIJHL last Wednesday, which saw the league go back to its usual five-team format (after the Borderland Thunder had announced in late May that it will not be playing next season).
Then there was the announcement last week that the Thunder Bay Bombers, this past season’s Allan Cup winners, and the Minot State University hockey, team out of Bottineau, N.D., will be playing a partial schedule with the SIJHL this winter.
“We don’t have a nine-team expansion deal, but this will fill the void for the time being,” enthused SIJHL vice-president Ron Whitehead, who is the lone remaining member of the league’s executive.
“It’s great news for the league. It shows that we’re not in survival mode and that we can move forward,” he added.
“I hope this sends the proper message to the potential investors in the Fort Frances area, because I would love to see them back.”
But the return of the Thunder to the SIJHL is still very uncertain given the team does not have an owner and has released all of their players. What is certain is Schreiber being part of the league.
“We have good news, but I always knew there would be,” said Bill MacLaurin, owner of the K&A Golden Hawks, who spearheaded the proposal to base a team out of Schreiber.
“There were no doubts.”
News of a new team possibly joining the SIJHL first was heard two weeks ago at the Hockey Northwestern Offices in Thunder Bay—just five minutes before the league was to hold its first-ever draft.
As a result, the draft first was postponed until June 6, and then to June 8, to await developments.
“I do not know where they are from. I have not met them,” Whitehead had said June 2.
A phone call to Whitehead on the afternoon of June 5 gave him some indication on where the new team would be based.
“I don’t know if I was supposed to know,” he remarked. “I found out by accident when Bill’s wife [Crystal] phoned me on [June 5].
“His wife phoned me [to see] if we could postpone it [the draft] until [June 8] because Bill wasn’t back from Schreiber yet, which was my first clue that that’s where we was dealing with the group,” he recalled.
“I don’t want to say anything prematurely because I don’t want to start something and then see nothing happen,” MacLaurin had noted on June 2.
When last Wednesday came, MacLaurin entered the HNO office with a smile on his face and a letter in hand.
“The Township of Schreiber is honoured to welcome Junior ‘A’ hockey to town!” read the first line of a letter signed by Mayor Don McArthur.
“This exciting initiative of the Superior International Junior Hockey League will bring high-level hockey action and economic stimulus to our region,” it continued.
But just who is the group that will provide the resources to “bring high-level hockey action” to Schreiber?
“The ownership hasn’t been announced yet,” said MacLaurin. “I am the group now, and there will be groups in Schreiber that will most likely be coming on board, but right now it’s just me running the team. “Nobody would make the initial commitment, but I’m sure it’s going to come and that people will want to get on board,” he added.
Owning the new team is something MacLaurin had hoped “to avoid,” saying he sees himself “spending a lot of time in Schreiber in the next month or two.”
The only issue that kept the SIJHL from heading to Schreiber, a town of 1,500 about two hours east of Thunder Bay, was it being able to give MacLaurin “guaranteed ice.”
“They were just concerned with what my needs were and I said we have to have guaranteed ice and that was the first hurdle,” he noted.
The Schreiber Recreation Complex, which has a 750-person capacity, is owned by the township and so any group wanting to use the facility must get permission from council (Schreiber has about 100 kids in its minor hockey program, a figure skating club, and supports a Junior ‘B’ team, the Aguasabon River Rats).
That “hurdle” was cleared by way of an “informal proposal meeting” held last Tuesday (June 7), which came before Schreiber council had its regular meeting that night.
It was held in-camera (behind closed doors) because of its “business nature.”
“It will be a challenge because our arena is pretty much going all the time during the season, but we know we can accommodate them,” Mayor McArthur said.
But will the town be receptive to Junior ‘A’ hockey?
“So far people have been really positive,” the mayor said. “That level of hockey is something we haven’t seen in a long time in Schreiber.”
So why is no one in Schreiber supporting the team financially?
“Mr. MacLaurin is looking after that and it’s probably pretty sensitive and it wouldn’t be very fair for me to comment, and I’d prefer not to comment on the business side of things,” Mayor McArthur remarked.
But MacLaurin, who laughed at the suggestion of maybe taking over ownership of the Thunder to bring them back into the SIJHL, now will “start putting things together” and begin laying the foundation for a new team that he hopes will be part of the league for many years to come.
“Anything that leads to the strengthening of the league is good news for anybody,” said Whitehead.