With their first exhibition games all lined up, the Fort Frances Thunderhawks are ready to resurrect senior men’s hockey here.
The squad will host the Thunder Bay Twins this Saturday (Nov. 7) at 7 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena, and again on Sunday (Nov. 8) at 1 p.m. at the Emo Arena.
The Thunderhawks then will meet the Kenora Thistles next Tuesday (Nov. 10) at 7 p.m. back at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“I hope to see lots of folks out there,” said team manager, Dean Bruyere, who is enthusiastic about the upcoming season which marks the first time there has been a senior men’s squad here since the days of the Fort Frances Merchants in the late 1980s.
“I think the most exciting part is that we’re bringing back some kids who have played here with the Borderland Thunder that people haven’t seen play in a while,” Bruyere noted.
“And when they did see them play, they were pretty much young men.
“Well, they’ve grown older and they’re wiser, they’re smarter, they’re a little more polished,” he remarked.
“As with any new team, it’s going to take some getting used to with each other,” Bruyere conceded. “But I think that it’s just a different flavour, a different brand, of hockey that people haven’t seen here in some time, since back in the ’80s.
“So I think it’s just another venue, another type of hockey, for those hockey fans who don’t get enough of it to watch.”
With no senior league in the area, it’s just exhibition games for the team so far, said Bruyere. But the Thunderhawks have their eyes set on eventually taking home the Allan Cup when the senior Canadian championship rolls into Kenora next season.
“The strengths are we’re really good up front. We’ll have no problem putting the puck in the net,” Bruyere said about the team’s development so far.
“We’re a little bit shy on defence [and] our goaltending hasn’t been tested yet,” he added, noting that out of the four goalies on hand—Jason Green, Chris Medicine, Jason Flatt, and Wade Freisen—they haven’t yet decided who will be the starter.
As for the “big guns” and “pros” on this year’s team, Bruyere pointed to Rustyn Dolyny, who had played professional hockey in Munich, Germany, and A.J. Tucker, who was just released from the Tulsa Oilers in Oklahoma.
Dolyny and Tucker join a slew of district talent filling out the Thunderhawks’ final roster, also including Riley Caul, Jamie Davis, Reynald Chartier, Duane Turriff, Jon Cooper, Tyler Barker, Dennis Morrison, Kris Esselink, Jeff Savage, Brian White, Taylor Jorgenson, Ian Lockman, Kevin Webb, Roger Morrison, Sean Councillor, and Clayton Windego Jr.
Players hailing from International Falls include Russ Johnson, Tom Biondich, Bruce Elson, and Andrew Dault while those from afar include Josh Boutet, originally from Winnipeg, and Matt Berty of Toronto.
“These guys are good and we’re going to find out how good we really are,” remarked Bruyere.
“But I think that if we play on a big ice surface and we’re able to wheel or skate as fast as we can go, and play that kind of wide-open style of hockey, we’ll do really well, I think,” he added.
And Bruyere has nothing but praise about the four coaches who have come on board in Randy White, Larry Beck, Greg Madill, and Greg Ross.
“Those guys are pretty knowledgeable in hockey. I don’t think I could have picked a better group of guys,” enthused Bruyere, citing their years of experience.
“All of those guys have played major junior hockey someplace and they’ve coached through minor hockey, most since their junior hockey playing days.
“So they’ve got a wealth of experience, especially Greg Madill and Greg Ross,” he continued. “They’ve both worked with [former Ottawa Senators’ coach] Dave Allison, who coaches in the American Hockey League and who coached our Borderland Thunder for those three or four years he was here.”
Bruyere said the team’s biggest challenge is finding ice time, noting that with all the other local hockey teams and figure skating club, the Thunderhawks are “last on the list” when it comes to getting ice time—which would be an issue if they were to ever join a league.
In the meantime, Bruyere said if they’re able to get more ice time, such as by heading over to International Falls, then they’ll bump up the team’s schedule by three or four more games.
“I think one of the other biggest challenges that we have is it’s a working man’s league—these guys all work and have jobs,” he noted.
“These guys are taking chances by doing this because if they get hurt, it can affect them in the job, so it’s kind of risky.
“But they still want to play competitively beyond the men’s league, or the beer league as they call it,” he stressed. “They want to play organized and competitive hockey, and this I’ll tell you is very, very competitive.”