Operations are under way as the new Thief River Falls Superior International Junior Hockey League franchise prepares for its inaugural season in 2016-17.
Kevin McCallum, the Thunder Bay, Ont., businessman who put the plan in place for an SIJHL expansion team in the Ralph Engelstad Arena, has established an office in the Northern State Bank building as a base of operation for the venture. He will be the owner (along with partners), general manager and director of operations for the Thief River Falls team.
“Everything is in place,” said McCallum as he watched an International Ice Hockey Federation U18 team practice at the Huck Olson Memorial Civic Center. All paperwork involving the SIJHL, USA Hockey, Canada Hockey, Minnesota Hockey and the city of Thief River Falls has been completed. Now comes the job of putting a team together.
Sitting atop McCallum’s lengthy to-do list is selecting a coach. Interview sessions were planned with five candidates. “We have some very good people interested in the job,” he said. “We’re looking for a young, up-and-coming coach – someone who can maybe use this as a career stepping stone.”
Arrangements will then begin on a try-out camp (probably a Friday-through-Sunday affair) at The Huck near the end of June that is expected to draw 80 to 100 prospective players. Open to the public, it will give the community it’s first glimpse of what’s to come.
McCallum expects a September training camp to include 25 to 30 players. The roster size is 25.
Thief River Falls’ prospective line-up will come mostly from a ‘draw zone’ the team has been granted that covers players from Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Texas and California. Players from outside the draw zone making the team will be counted as imports. That includes Canadians. The team will be allowed to carry just two imports on its roster.
McCallum is convinced Thief River Falls will be considered an attractive place to call home for many high end SIJHL-caliber players. That in turn, should produce a competitive team on the ice and a box-office draw.
Training camp will include a handful of exhibition games against teams not in the SIJHL, like the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Winkler Flyers.
Superior International Junior Hockey League regular season starts in late-September. That’s a little early for the Ralph Engelstad Arena ice to be in place, McCallum acknowledged, and could result in his team playing on the road for the first couple of weeks.
A delayed home opener could whet the interest of Thief River Falls fans looking to see what Junior hockey is all about, hinted McCallum. “Our goal,” he said, “is to break the league attendance record in our home opener.”
In the meantime, McCallum kicked off a name the team contest with information distributed to students at Challenger Elementary School. The general public can throw suggestions into the hat, too, by emailing McCallum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The naming contest winner will receive a team jersey with their name on the back.
McCallum is also looking for places for his players to stay once the roster is in place. The players will be placed with host families – billeted. Those willing to bring a player into their home will be compensated at the rate of $300 per month and will be awarded a pair of season tickets, explained McCallum. If interested, contact him at the above email address.
Introduction of season ticket sales will be announced later.