The Superior International Junior Hockey League’s roller coaster membership directory appears to have stopped at five for the 2009-10 season.
After losing both the Schreiber Diesels and the Thunder Bay Bearcats, who have each requested at least a year on the sidelines because of financial concerns and owner work commitments, the Junior A circuit got some good news this week with the addition of the Junior B K&A Wolverines.
Silver medalists at the Keystone Cup national championship last spring, the Wolverines are owner Bill MacLaurin’s third kick at the SIJHL can, one he’s convinced he can make work in Thunder Bay.
MacLaurin previously owned the K&A Golden Hawks – which later became the Bearcats after he sold the franchise – and the Diesels, a team he parted ways with when the financial situation began to deteriorate on the North Shore.
"It’s kinda to help the league out a bit this year," MacLaurin said on Thursday morning, an interview held at the Fort William First Nation gas station and restaurant he owns and operates.
"It’s a good move for me. I think it will be a little cheaper for me to run the hockey program here in Thunder Bay than in Schreiber, seeing as how we lost a lot of the fan support there the last years I ran it."
MacLaurin said the move was also made out of necessity, given the lack of competition in the Junior B circuit.
"We had to build such a strong program that the competition in town was really weak. The coaching staff had brought that to my attention, that they didn’t know if they could continue on with the B program and build such a strong hockey club with no competition and still try to go and win that championship out west," he said, adding he’s in it for the long haul.
"That was part of the reason we decided to move up and become part of the SIJHL again."
The fledgling team, which will promote some of its players from last year’s squad and scour the hockey world to fill out the remainder of its roster, will play out of the Thunder Bay Tournament Centre.
Ron Whitehead, SIJHL president, said it’s good news for a league that has done its level best to maintain at least five teams on its roster since it was founded eight years ago.
"We’ve been very fortunate," Whitehead said. "We’ve got a new team that’s stepped up … We’re back to five teams."
Whitehead said league officials are still ironing out schedule details, and have been in discussions with junior teams in both Spooner, Wis. and Minneapolis about having them play partial schedules in the SIJHL in 2009-10. The games would count in the standings, Whitehead said, though the two American clubs would maintain standing in their own leagues and the games would be nothing more than exhibitions for them.
Also expected to compete this season are the Dryden IceDogs, Fort William North Stars, Sioux Lookout and Fort Frances Sabres.