The commissioner of the SIJHL, Bryan Graham, is bullish about expanding to as many as 10 teams within a couple of years, with new franchises on both sides of the American border possible. However, he says a return to Kenora isn't in the cards, until the issue of ice time is resolved.
"Kenora's still on our radar," the commissioner said, during a recent interview. "We've had some dialogue there ongoing. The biggest thing there is the arena situation, and is there enough ice time to bring in a Junior A team."
A potential owner was talking about a return of junior hockey to Kenora in 2014 and 2015, but ultimately made the decision to start up a team in Thief River in 2016, instead.
Earlier this month, another franchise was awarded to Spooner, Wisconsin, leaving some Kenora hockey fans to ask what's missing from their local market.
"We've got a lot of people very interested in that market, in terms of ownership," Graham said, after the expansion announcement for Wisconsin. "We really would love to get into Kenora and work -- obvioulsy -- with the AAA Midget program to make sure they're comfortable with everything we're going to do from a hockey standpoint and from a corporate standpoint. Kenora's still on our radar. We're being patient. Hopefully, one day, they'll say they have enough ice for us and we can bring Junior A hockey back to Kenora, as well."
The commissioner added he's excited to be promoting a return of junior hockey to Wisconsin, after a recent board of governor's decision.
"We're really thrilled to be going back into the Spooner and northwest Wisconsin market, where we had franchise before with the Wisconsin Wilderness. The arena's gone under some major renovations. We're quite happy with how that has gone. We have local ownership, which is huge for our league," he said.
The new team will get players through recruiting, as well as the possibility of trades, the commissioner added. The Wilderness won the SIJHL and even advanced to the RBC Cup.
The Iron Rangers in Minnesota have been a struggle this year, Graham acknowledges, but he hopes to see them next year and for the years ahead.