SIJHL, FFCBC heading in opposite ways

? After a much longer wait than I’m sure SIJHL commissioner Ron Whitehead would have wanted, the local Junior ‘A’ circuit is expanding to seven teams this coming season with an entry from the Iron Range (an official name yet to be finalized) joining the ranks.
The new franchise, which is expected to be based in Hibbing, will be the third U.S.-based team in the league, joining the second-year Duluth Clydesdales and the defending Bill Salonen Cup champion Wisconsin Wilderness.
Those three will be going up against four teams from north of the border, with the Fort Frances Lakers, Dryden Ice Dogs, Sioux Lookout Flyers, and Thunder Bay North Stars all returning for another campaign.
This will be the first time the SIJHL has sported seven teams since the 2007/08 season, when the former Thunder Bay Bearcats, Thunder Bay Bulldogs, Marathon Renegades, Schreiber Diesels, and Fort Frances Jr. Sabres were a part of the loop along with the Ice Dogs and North Stars.
A lot definitely has changed since then, but it’s clear to see that things are starting to look up for the league.
With a new team coming into the SIJHL, the Sioux Lookout Flyers surviving a scare back in the spring that nearly saw them fold, and the North Stars hosting the 2012 Dudley Hewitt Cup, the stage is set for what should be an exciting campaign.
While many people are interested in some of the behind-the-scenes dealings and backroom politics that occurs in Junior ‘A’ leagues from time to time, others just want to focus on what is happening on the ice.
And even though the first puck drop is still two months away, the storylines already are there to talk about.
Obviously, there is the new team from the Iron Range, which looks to be called either the Ironheads or the Steel, and will feature Steve Chelios (brother of Chris) as the coach and general manager.
You have Duluth looking to rebound from a rough expansion campaign while the Wilderness will be trying to win back-to-back league crowns in only their second season, which would be a phenomenal accomplishment.
Then you have Sioux Lookout, who have a new head coach and general manager in Brad Zangs, with the North Stars gunning to return to the top of the SIJHL heap, especially since they are hosting the next Dudley Hewitt Cup.
And don’t forget about Dryden, which consistently has been one of the steadiest teams in the SIJHL.
Which, of course, leaves the Lakers, who had a strong season a year ago only to be knocked out of the playoffs in the semi-finals by the Ice Dogs.
But with returning veterans and exciting newcomers joining the fold, the Lakers again should have another strong campaign in 2011-12.
One in which many in Northwestern Ontario, and the U.S., will be talking about for a variety of reasons.
• • •
While optimism is high among local hockey fans, the same might not be said for the upcoming Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, if this past week’s Fort Frances Times web poll is any indication.
Readers were asked if they were planning to attend this year’s bass tournament, which begins tonight with the parade of boats before teams hit the water tomorrow morning.
As of press time yesterday afternoon, the results were quite shocking as 72 percent of those who voted said they would not attend the tournament at all during its three days.
Now, polls such as this aren’t scientific by any means, and are usually of a small sample size, with 359 votes being cast at last report.
Plus, you can’t really tell if the voters are from Rainy River District, or if they are having their say from a far-flung locale.
But for someone who only arrived in Fort Frances earlier this year, and for someone who has heard a lot about the FFCBC since I came to town, the numbers are quite shocking, nonetheless.
I’m not going to theorize or try to explain why people would feel this way, especially since I’ve been here for less than six months. However, if those living in the community aren’t looking forward to the bass tournament, what chance does it really have to keep going?
Community support, be it through crowds of fans, hard-working volunteers, and participants themselves, are the lifeblood of any event, sports or otherwise.
But if those locally are not interested in the event, the chances of it surviving become dimmer and dimmer as time wears on.
Having seen our poll results, it will be interesting to see how the tournament goes with regards to the crowds, and I’m hoping that things go well, especially for someone like Gord Watson, who is in his first year as the event chairman.
As harsh as it is to say, if in the future people begin to wonder why events such as the FFCBC aren’t around in a town like Fort Frances anymore, they only would have to look in the mirror and see someone who just sat around and did nothing while others tried to get something in the community to go.
And that would be a huge shame.

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