By Lindsay Briscoe
Ear Falls resident Kevin Kahoot, apart from his role as mayor of the community, is spearheading a committee of locals working to bring a Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) team to the area.
Kahoot has already spoken with the president of the league, Ron Whitehead, and held several meetings in both Ear Falls and Red Lake aimed at bringing together a solid group of people who “want to be neck deep” in the project. He also says, apart from having to renovate one dressing room, there is “nothing major” that needs to take place at the Ear Falls Arena in order to be able to start out hosting SIJHL games there.
It’s also a “great catalyst for starting the conversation for a new Red Lake Arena,” says Kahoot. ‘I think a lot of people in Red Lake will see this as a good opportunity…”
In the meantime, there is a lot of preliminary work that needs to be done.
“It takes a lot more work at your end than you would imagine,” says Whitehead. “Rather than leading someone astray, I try to be as brutally honest as I can and then they can go home armed with all the information they need and figure out what it is they have to do.”
Kahoot has been working on bringing together an executive team with representatives from both communities along with a detailed financial plan that outlines how the team would raise the $185 thousand he thinks it will need to get started.
“The greatest expense is in year one. It’s about a $30-40 thousand drop after that,” he says.
The team would require about $30 thousand in corporate donations and would raise the rest with a home and away jersey sponsorship program, player fees, merchandise, ticket and arena liquor sales, raffles and fundraising events like dinners and golf tournaments. Kahoot is confident it would take about three years to get the team to a point of financial self-sustainability by working toward about $50 thousand more in revenue than expenses annually.
“We need to have some carry-over to get to the next year so that we’re not going back to all the businesses again,” he adds.
The biggest challenges, according to both Kahoot and Whitehead, would be player recruitment and finding families willing to host players from out of town. Kahoot says he foresees about two or three local players on the team. The rest of the players (about 18) would likely come from other regions of Canada, the United States and possibly Europe, try out over the summer and live with local families who would be paid a stipend for monthly grocery bills.
Right now the SIJHL consists of five teams from northwestern Ontario and the United States – down from seven in previous years.
“Being that the league is as small as it is, we’re always on that dangerous edge of if we lose a team or two we don’t have enough to operate. Then we fold,” says Whitehead.
He adds that a league of five teams means they play each other too often and the referees start to see the same teams over and over. Six or more teams would be ideal, he says.
Both Whitehead and Kahoot seem optimistic about a team coming together in the near future.
“Being the mayor is certainly a feather in his (Kahoot’s) cap as far as saying ‘take my word for it. I can get this thing done,” says Whitehead.
Kahoot thinks “we could be dropping the puck in Ear Falls this fall.”