SIJHL players still deserve respect

Following the road paved by Aretha Franklin, Brent Tookenay is simply asking the general public to give the players in the Superior International Junior Hockey League some “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
Tookenay, general manager of the Borderland Thunder, says no matter what people’s perceptions are of the league, those should not include the players.
“People just figure that a kid in the Saskatchewan league has got to be better than a kid from the SIJHL, which is totally unfair because you can’t tell me that not one of those guys couldn’t play Division I hockey,” Tookenay said.
“And until you get more credibility in the league, then you’ll still get that,” he added.
This past season, the Fort William North Stars consistently were ranked as one of the top 15 junior teams in the country.
But when they headed to the Dudley Hewitt Cup, they weren’t able to steamroll through the competition there as they did in the SIJHL (42-2-4 during the regular season and undefeated in the playoffs).
Tookenay said the “lack of competition” in the SIJHL contributed to that, though that’s not to suggest the teams didn’t have good players.
It’s just those players didn’t have the support that most other teams in most other leagues have.
Just look at the other leagues’ websites, which are updated regularly and have information pertaining to scholarships players have received and a list of alumni.
While it should be noted the SIJHL only has been in existence for five years, and is the youngest of all the junior leagues in Canada, its website hasn’t been updated in at least a month.
It also doesn’t make any mention of scholarships players have received or even who the award winners were from this past season.
But at least the SIJHL is making attempts to get better.
“We are bending over backwards trying to make sure all five teams get what they need to carry on,” said SIJHL vice-president Ron Whitehead.
The recent announcement of the league looking to get a full-time commissioner is one step in the right direction. Implementing a draft to create a more level playing field is another towards creating a league that can be stable and entertaining for the fans.
“What the teams are looking for is consistency with the other leagues in the country,” Whitehead noted.
With the Thunder confirming yesterday that it won’t ice a team this coming season, players from last season who are still eligible to play in the junior ranks have been urged to look elsewhere.
“It’s disappointing where we’re at right now, but we’ve got to be honest with the players and [we] told them that if they want to pursue other opportunities, then it’s not a problem,” Tookenay said.
“One problem is that a lot of guys didn’t want to come back and play in the SIJHL,” he noted.
Can you blame the players?
Just look at the KC Bulldogs, who at the end of last season could barely put a team on the ice and weren’t even having any weekly practices. That wasn’t the players’ faults, and their credibility as players should not decrease just because they’re affiliated with a poor organization.
Or you can look at the Thunder, who had scouts come to their games on just a few occasions whereas, in other leagues, there are scouts at games on a regular basis.
But does that have more to do with the league’s isolated location? And wasn’t that one of the main reasons why the Thunder and Dryden Ice Dogs tried to join the Manitoba Junior Hockey League during the course of the season?
“I think their [the Ice Dogs and Thunder] hearts were in the right place and they want to do it for the kids, and get more fans out and get more money to provide a better team,” said Whitehead.
Now it seems the focus is to provide a better-run league to give the current teams more stability, which hopefully will put more butts in the seats and thus attract prospective teams into joining.