Fans of junior A hockey in Thunder Bay will have their plates full next year.
The Superior International Junior Hockey League announced a seventh franchise in time for the 2020-21 season. The Kam River Fighting Walleye, based out of the Tournament Centre, will join the SIJHL in time for its 20th anniversary.
“We’re very thrilled to have this organization come on board to Junior A at this level in the SIJHL,” said SIJHL commissioner Bryan Graham.
“We’ve been working diligently at expansion for a while. This concept has been bandied around a little bit over the last few years. It really gained momentum the last few months.
“The North Stars with their championship run last year drew 2,100 fans in game five when they won the championship, beating Red Lake in a great series,” Graham added.
“I think there’s renewed interest in junior A at this level, especially. We hope it’ll create a rivalry. We understand they’ll have to reach outside of Thunder Bay to stock both the teams with out-of-town players. Everybody feels this is a good plan.”
The Thunder Bay Fighting Walleye of the Lakehead Junior Hockey League will be re-branded to keep the junior B loop at four teams.
Kevin McCallum will be the new general manager of the junior A team, while Derek Geddes will remain president.
Plans are to retain the current level of 56 games in the regular season. No conflicts with the North Stars’ home games at Fort William Gardens is another goal.
Stressed highly by the Fighting Walleye was having no interference with the Thunder Bay AAA Kings organization.
“We really felt there was a need for it,” said McCallum, who helped establish the expansion Thief River Falls Norskies four years ago. “Derek was looking at bringing the Walleye into the SIJHL. Our group, meeting with (fellow owners) Brad Collins, Colin Campbell and myself, were looking at another franchise in the States. We ended up sitting down together.”
The Dorsal Fin Entertainment Group was thus born.
“We have a really large scouting team, they’re already out there right now. We’re going to be competitive right out of the gate,” McCallum said.
McCallum feels reaching out to the community will be key to the Walleye’s success.
“At the end of the day you’re going to get your fan support if you’re in the community and doing your job with the kids, being in schools, being in proper outreach programs with kids in the community. That’s what we did in Thief River. “
I was told I’d never survive in Thief River. We’re in year four and doing pretty good, and that’s all because of community outreach,” he said. “If you’re out there in the community working hard, showing the fans what you can do, they’ll support you in droves.”
The Fighting Walleye are looking for a coach. In the next few weeks they hope to have four or five player commitments. McCallum said 200 players have been identified in their talent pool.
“We’re glad this day is over and we can start putting our feet to the road and start working hard at building this organization,” Geddes said. “We’re really excited, our whole group, about getting this team here. First business is getting that coach named. Starting to get some players signed, starting to get some season tickets out there, getting the business community to realize what we’re all about and our vision. Once we get that going it’s a whirlwind, right? It’s going to go quick.”
The Fighting Walleye junior B team draws 250 to 300 fans a game.
“We’re setting our goals a little higher than that,” Geddes added. “We’d like to see 350, 400 people there, building on the base we have, building that rivalry with the North Stars in town. Their fans are going to have the opportunity to watch some more home games and our fans will be able to go over there and watch some. I think the synergy between the two organizations are going to be wonderful.”