Thunder deserve chance to succeed in MJHL

The Borderland Thunder say they and the Dryden Ice Dogs are in the process of moving to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. But the SIJHL says no way that’s going to happen while Dryden says they’re staying put.
If it does happen, though, it will be the death of the league that was formed so Northern Ontario’s junior players could remain closer to home.
The SIJHL has been running with five teams, three of which are in Thunder Bay and three of which are unhappy. They have talked about expanding into Minnesota and Kenora, but nothing is concrete so far.
The league needs to give its teams a reason to stay—something better than the high fee for joining the MJHL.
Five teams is not a league, it’s a division—barely. Players cannot gain the experience they need to move on playing with and against the same players all the time.
The MJHL would offer 12 teams for the Thunder to face over the season, as well as playoffs that wind up against the Saskatchewan League.
While the MJHL would mean more travel time for the Thunder, this also could increase their skills. As many coaches and players have said, team-building begins on the bus. Teams really can get to know each other when they’re confined to small spaces for several hours at a time.
Switching leagues also would provide the Thunder with more trading possibilities and a better chance to get scouted.
Mike Allison of Fort Frances and Rick St. Croix of Kenora both played in the NHL after their time in the MJHL. Other well-known alumni include Ted Nolan, Terry Sawchuk, and Jordin Tootoo, currently with the Nashville Predators.
Tootoo moved from the MJHL on to the WHL and was drafted by the Predators after his time with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The MJHL also has a long list of scholarship recipients on its website. That includes free rides to play in American college hockey and scholarships the league itself gives out in memory of past players or coaches.
What parent or fan wouldn’t want to see these players move on in such a fashion? This is an established league that gives its players every chance to succeed.
The OHL draft was held Saturday. As a person who grew up in an OHL town with OHL season tickets, I like to pay attention to these things. While I was visiting the Ottawa 67’s website to see who they picked up from where, I noticed a new feature.
The team is tracking down alumni and posting a sort of “Where are they now?” feature on them. I was happy to see that two of the players from one of my favourite 67’s teams—the 1999 Memorial Cup champs—have now graduated from university and are exploring their future in hockey.
One of them is even married.
The smaller the town, the more likely it is fans will get attached and look forward to seeing their players accomplish things in the future. I’m sure many people in Fort Frances will wonder in a few years where Dan Hoehne is and how Kurt Hogard is getting along.
These hockey players grow into a community—and their community should give them every opportunity to succeed.

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