The Thunder Bay North Stars have found a new owner.
Doug Gunsinger is taking over the Superior International Junior Hockey League franchise, rescuing the once-proud team from a near-certain demise. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
He intends to form a non-profit organization to run the team, and will likely ask players to cover the cost of the billeting, which usually runs between $500 and $600 a month, a trend that’s becoming more and more common in the Tier 2 game across Canada and is already in place with some of the U.S. teams in the SIJHL.
Gunsinger is stepping up out of a love for the game and the desire to see junior-aged players have an option to play close to home.
“Thunder Bay needs it – the surrounding area, the size of the city. Players need a home. They need to sleep in their own bed. Basically we’re just here to keep the doors open,” Gunsinger said Friday morning.
“You need Junior A in the area. You can’t let it get to the outside. Basically the kids coming up from the ranks, they need a home and from there, if they try hard, it’s a goal,” said Gunsinger, a former trainer with the Northern Hawks Junior B franchise.
“Every kid needs a chance.”
It was good news for SIJHL president Ron Whitehead, unsure whether or not the team would return for 2012-13.
The Stars previous ownership group led by Ken Perrier and David Dubinsky, did not attend the league’s annual general meeting, though they did send representatives to the SIJHL draft that same weekend.
“We had our scheduling meeting on Sunday, which included the North Stars, and we’re good to go,” Whitehead said Friday, admitting he was concerned enough to contact both the Lakehead Thunderwolves organization and the Thunder Bay Midget Kings program to gauge their interest in buying the club, not knowing the status of the pending sale of the Stars.
Thunder Bay is not a market the seven-team league wants to lose.
“I’m always concerned when we lose a team. It’s important to keep moving forward. Thunder Bay, in my opinion is the key to the league. It has to have a franchise. It has to have a strong franchise,” Whitehead said.
“I’ve talked to quite a few hockey people in town about that and they share my thoughts. They’ve stepped forward, they’ve solved the problem and we’re good to go.
It’s not the first time the franchise has faced adversity.
Born in 2000 as the Thunder Bay Wolves, under the ownership of David Simpson, the team was sold to Fort William First Nation the following year and rebranded eventually as the Fort William First Nation North Stars, with Todd Howarth taking control behind the bench.
Gerald Bannon, involved in the FWFN bid, took over the team in 2003, and led the team on an unprecedented era of prosperity, coming within a goal of reaching the Royal Bank Cup final in 2006. But attendance, weak at the best of times in the cavernous Fort William Gardens, waned, and the club reached the brink of its existence in October 2010.
Bannon folded the club, but it was immediately resurrected by a consortium of owners and renamed the Thunder Bay North Stars. The group, led by Dubinsky and Perrier, held on for two seasons, but informed league officials after the 2011-12 season they wanted out.
Gunsinger said he plans to keep the team name, but is still working out many of the front-office details, including the coach.
“Everything is being reviewed right now,” Gunsinger said, asked if he had a coach in mind. “Not at this time.”
Sources tell TB Newswatch that among the candidates being considered are former NHLer Lonny Bohonos, who took over the team after Howarth was let go, Howarth, whose son Isaac is still a member of the Stars, and Ian Swalucynski, most recently the coach and GM of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey Leauge’s North Bay Trappers.
Gunsinger, meanwhile, sees his main role as a fundraiser, trying to convince local companies to jump on board and support the Junior A brand of hockey in the city.
He’s convinced it can happen.
“It’s definite we can handle it. It’s not a problem. We’ve proved it in the past. It’s just basically support. We’re looking for support,” he said.
“I’m here as the fundraiser to get them more money to do what they have to do. That’s been the biggest problem. It’s always been the problem. I have a few more connections, a few more ties and I hope I have the support my team players have had before. They know what I’ve done and hopefully we can carry on and have a good organization here.”
Click here to report a typo or error
You must log in to add comments.
Create a new account
Remember me next time.