Sabres will need to have support from all parties to survive

Are the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres worth fighting for?
That’s up to you now.
The yo-yo summer that created far more questions than answers in the Sabres’ ownership circle is over, and now local community members are taking it upon themselves to try to save the team.
This always has been the most viable way to sustain junior hockey in Fort Frances, but it’s just a matter of getting all the ducks in a row in short order to make it work.
The formula isn’t a complicated one (Sioux Lookout has proven that). But it’s a matter of grabbing the bull by the horns and going for it with a positive attitude.
Serious strides were made at a meeting Sunday night to discuss the logistics of turning the team into a not-for-profit entity—and now it’s just a matter of who is willing to step up and be a part of the team’s board of directors.
A strong board of directors is crucial to getting this off and running for the sustainable future. You need hard-working individuals who know how to number crunch, who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and have connections within the community.
With a strong board, the coaches can coach and the players can play. There’s no unnecessary distractions.
But can it be done with just over two weeks to go before the team is scheduled to open its third SIJHL season?
There was enough interest shown at Sunday’s meeting to spark a season-ticket sales drive (which continues today and tomorrow from 1-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at the Memorial Sports Centre).
?As well, a meeting to nominate a board of directors has been scheduled for tomorrow (Sept. 3) at 8 p.m. If you want a say in the matter, that would be the place to do it.
But enthusiasm cannot just last a week; it needs to continue on throughout the season and the years to come.
A volunteer-driven effort is the only way.
“I just felt there was a small pool of volunteers who were doing too much [last season],” Sabres’ fan club member Larry Patrick said at Sunday’s meeting. “We just couldn’t seem to get enough people in the fan club for whatever reason, or enough people to help out at games.
“So in order to make this work, we’ll surely have to increase the volunteer pool,” Patrick stressed.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but a lot of people are reluctant to get involved,” he noted.
The Sabres brought in $115,000 through the gate alone last year through their 25 regular-season games and four home playoff dates (plus exhibition games), but they don’t get any revenue from the concession stands operating during games.
Normally sports franchises rely heavily on earnings made from concessions to balance the budget—and that source of revenue is sorely missed here.
You can’t blame the Kellaways for folding up shop. Junior hockey is a losing venture, to be sure, but maybe they thought they could make a success of it after a few seasons. As it turns out, they only were willing to absorb so many losses.
The SIJHL also requires a fee of $12,000 up front from each franchise per season, and that presents another obstacle for the local group trying to salvage the Sabres.
Could that fee at least be deferred or reduced for this season? After all, a four-team league (plus the Wisconsin Mustangs as part-time members) without the Sabres would mean little variety to pique fans’ interest elsewhere.
A 50-game schedule playing the same two or three teams drastically decreases the importance of a lot of games, so having the Sabres in benefits the league as a whole.
A letter has been drafted to present to town council during its meeting on Sept. 14, and those in favour of the junior team should attend to help drive the message home.
A big part of the team’s operating expense lies in ice rental fees, with the Sabres paying $75.60/hour for practices during non-peak weekday sessions last season.
Youth rental fees are listed at $70/hour for non-peak times between 8-3:30 p.m. on Monday to Friday this season in the “Recreator,” so that’s what they’d have to swallow again for practices.
That’s the standard paid by minor hockey and high school teams here in town as far as I’m aware, but it’s significantly more than the Dryden Ice Dogs pay for their daytime practice sessions ($35.80/hour according to Dryden Memorial Arena staff).
The prime time fees in both towns are north of $100/hour to host games.
Will the town be willing to make concessions to keep junior hockey here? That remains to be seen.
There are positives to having the team here. Fort Frances’ Mitch Cain and Ryan Faragher (who suited up for the Sabres the last two seasons) are living proof—now getting opportunities in the USHL and NAHL, respectively, after showcasing their skills with the Sabres.
That alone suggests junior hockey is a good platform for local players to stay in school here at home and play at a high level.
Junior hockey also brings revenue into town for local businesses when visiting teams come to play (although Muskie hockey teams and the ‘AA’ Canadians, among others, can claim the same thing when they host tournaments and double-headers here).
And if concessions are made for the Sabres, then other teams will want their fees reduced, too. But the operating expenses associated with running a junior hockey squad exceed those required to run any other organized team in town.
Having to bring in players and billet them is something other local teams don’t have to deal with. And could an all-Rainy River District squad realistically compete at the Junior ‘A’ level?
Some of the best players in these parts often go elsewhere to play out their junior careers, whether it be in the United States or the OHL—lessening the local talent pool that much more.
A good number of area kids could suit up, to be sure, but expecting to ice a competitive outfit solely from the local community is a lot to ask without crippling, or at the very least depleting, the high school program.
Furthermore, it’s a legitimate step-up from high school to junior, and subjecting kids to that leap before they are ready could shatter confidence levels and risk injury.
A fine line to walk to be sure.
• • •
Steve Arpin’s day came to a disappointing end Friday at the Ansell Cut Protection 150 at the Chicagoland Speedway.
Despite qualifying in fifth position, Arpin’s race ended prematurely with an accident 34 laps in.
He wound up finishing in 36th position, which dropped him to eighth overall in the ARCA RE/MAX standings with 3,180 points through 15 events.
Justin Lofton took the checkered flag and vaulted into first overall with 3,880 points. Parker Kligerman (3,825) and Frank Kimmel (3,550) round out the top three.
The next event is the ARCA RE/MAX 200 from Toledo Speedway this Friday night.
• • •
The Emo Speedway points champions have been decided.
Tridell Champlin of Deer River claimed the WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds title on Saturday night while Greg Ferris of Finland took the title in the WISSOTA Modifieds.
Scott Messner of Bemidji, Mn. took the Street Stocks title, finishing 17 points ahead of the father/daughter pair of Tylar and Libby Wilson.

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