New group seeks another Junior A hockey franchise for Manitoulin

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—On the heels of the announcement that the Manitoulin Islanders Junior ‘A’ Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) team would be heading to Kirkland Lake, a group led by Manitoulin Secondary School teacher Jim Stringer has announced its intentions to secure a new franchise for the 2012-13 season.

“I understand there’s a certain population of Manitoulin who will be skeptical,” Mr. Stringer said, “but there’s also a solid core of folks who would love to have hockey that’s fun and exciting to watch.”

When asked about the likelihood of attracting the caliber of players needed to ice a winning team, the Mustangs coach replied, “If you go back to the days of the Wild, they were certainly able to attract solid players.”

“We have to work with Sudbury with a focus on recruiting there,” he explained, noting that players heading to college or university in the city are likely to stay there and travel to Manitoulin for practices and games. “It’s extra work for them, but if they’re serious about having the chance to play hockey and perhaps have the chance to further their career, it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Mr. Stringer believes that, should a new Junior ‘A’ franchise come to Manitoulin, half the team would be made of players from the Sudbury area with the remainder made up of Island and area players and those from Ontario and beyond.

“Having good coaching staff and a long term goal will allow us to attract and keep these players,” he said, adding that a team needs to have a reputation for the long-term development of players.

Mr. Stringer did make some attempts to acquire the Islanders team, but said it “came down to dollars and cents” with the Islanders board looking for more than Mr. Stringer and his group were willing to offer.

He explained that “it’s now or never” for putting an application together for the NOJHL. This year, seven teams will be a part of the league as the Temiscaming Royals have revoked their franchise and Mr. Stringer, once a part of the Islanders organization, knows how quickly a team can get snatched up with an opportunity like this not likely to rise again for some time.

He said there are two components to getting a new team on Manitoulin: developing a solid business plan “addressing both financial and hockey operating plans to ensure a long term, sustainable plan” and finding the necessary start-up funds, estimated at $65,000, $40,000 of which is the league’s franchise fee. Mr. Stringer said he is confident that $40,000 can be raised in a relatively short period of time.

“We are confident that we can put together a strong application and raise the necessary funds,” he said in a release, “but ultimately, we will not be successful without community support and our first task will be to develop hat support.”

“It’s not a bad thing to start fresh,” he said.

This plan is all pending council support and the group will be attending the Thursday, June 23 community services/public works committee meeting of the Northeast Town in hopes of this.

“A well-run Junior ‘A’ team can indeed succeed on Manitoulin—a product that people will watch. After all, this isn’t Toronto,” he chuckled, noting the Leafs poor win record but that the team still enjoys huge fan support. “Having a team that can win and is at least winning some or most of the time and can pack a crowd, that’s what will make a successful team.”