SIOUX LOOKOUT, Ont. -- Make no mistake about it, the Sioux Lookout Bombers are being built to win, and win fast.
But between now and when the puck drops in September 2022, the Superior International Junior Hockey League's record eight franchise has plenty of growing – and fundraising to do.
Matt Cairns, one of four co-owners of the team, said the team was born of a desire to bring high-calibre hockey to the Northern Ontario community.
But it's more than that, he said.
“We're all from the north here. We all love hockey. We were all sad to see the Flyers leave,” Cairns said, referencing the SIJHL's former Sioux Lookout franchise, which spent four seasons in the league, dropping out three games into the 2012-13 campaign.
“It left kind of a void in the community. I've wanted to see junior A hockey come back for several years. It just kind of presented itself now.”
He's confident it's the right time for the ownership team, which includes Joe Cassidy, Austen Hoey and Christine Hoey, a fresh group with fresh ideas, in a league that itself has evolved into something much different than it was nine years ago when the largely unsuccessful-on-the-ice Flyers folded.
“We got unanimous support by the board of governors of the SIJHL, which speaks volumes, I think, about the level of confidence they have in our ability to put a program together that will be successful long-term,” said Cairns who has also been working closely with the Kam River Fighting Walleye ownership group, a first-year success story from the abbreviated 2021-22 SIJHL season, to overcome any expansion pitfalls that might fall their way.
Austen Hoey, the Bombers director of hockey operations, said the team will also be an inspiration to developing hockey players in the region.
While they won't focus solely on Sioux Lookout and area players, the team will provide another route for the better players in the region to continue on in the game.
“I believe that, especially in a community like ours, where right now the highest level of hockey for players to aspire to is the high school hockey team,” Hoey said.
“Not that there's anything wrong with that, but when there is a junior team here, it does ask those minor hockey league players to kind of push themselves a little bit harder, because now they know the bar they are looking to get to is that much higher. I think it kind of creates a culture.”
For now, finding those players is low on the priority list, with 17 months to go before the puck drops.
Cairns said the team, named after the water bombers that protect Ontario's northwest from the threat of forest fires each year and patterned after the former Queen Elizabeth High School team's green and gold colour scheme, has already begun building relationships in the Sioux Lookout area, including nearby First Nations.
The team is looking to raise about $150,000 to cover start-up costs, league dues and expansion fees, through partnerships with the local business community, planned raffles and a charity golf tournament.
League commissioner Darrin Nicholas said the league is looking to grow to 10 teams and Sioux Lookout was always high on their list, a natural rival with teams in Dryden and Fort Frances, and one whose potential fan base in the past showed a willingness to support SIJHL hockey.
“Certainly there's no secret that high on our priority list was getting more teams involved and more communities involved in the league. I think I said very early in my tenure that our goal was to work toward 10. We can't get to 10 before we get to eight,” Nicholas said.
“As we looked around, kind of at the landscape, at the places we thought it made sense for the league to participate in, clearly Sioux Lookout was the leading candidate, with a facility that's already housed a team in our league, that's still capable of housing a team in our league.”