The Superior International Junior Hockey League announced last week that it will ice a complement of seven teams for the 2022-23 season, which will not include the Thief River Falls Norskies.
Thief River Falls joined the SIJHL for the 2016-‘17 season and were full-time members of the league until the pandemic shut it down in 2020. The Norskies, along with the league’s other U.S.-based team the Wisconsin Lumberjacks, did not mobilize operations in ‘20-‘21, also on account of restrictions arising from the pandemic.
Upon resumption of operations for the ‘21-‘22 season, the Norskies suffered from lingering effects of the extended pause and failed to complete their schedule obligations to the league.
They competed in only 21 games of the truncated SIJHL season before being disbanded in January on account of them failing to meet minimum roster requirements.
The Norskies had skated to a 5-16-0-0 record to that point.
Darrin Nicholas is the SIJHL commissioner, he says the Norskies’ shut down comes as a bit of a surprise.
“We didn’t foresee ourselves in this position, even back in January when there was no choice but to shut them down,” Nicholas said. “We said at that time we would work tirelessly towards the return of SIJHL hockey in Thief River Falls in September. I believe we have done that but obviously we were hoping for different results.”
Nicholas says the hoped that the league could help the Norskies get on the right track to continue as a team.
“It’s no secret that our operations in Thief River Falls last season struggled to meet minimum expectations of the league in almost all areas. Substantial change was required, which we set out to bring,” Nicholas said. “Ultimately though, there are lots of moving parts, we were getting few – if any – encouraging signs that the situation was progressing in the direction we needed it to, within the timeframe we had established. With every day that passed, the runway got shorter, and we just felt it was no longer feasible, reasonable or responsible to continue to pursue the plan of playing in Thief River Falls this September.”
Nicholas took the time to acknowledge and thank the fans, billet families and volunteers who helped make the city’s short time in the league a memorable one.
“Thief River Falls is a market for our league worth fighting for, and fight we did,” he said. “We know there’s passionate and committed fans and volunteers there willing to step up if given the opportunity. Our door will always be open for discussion to resume operations in that beautiful community and facility.”
Despite the loss of a team, the 2022-2023 season will still se the SIJHL remain a seven-team league, with expansion team Sioux Lookout Bombers set to drop the puck in September. The full 2022-2023 SIJHL schedule will be released soon.