For the first time since 1985, when the Innisfil Bruins played their last game at the Stroud arena, Innisfil has a junior hockey team.
On Wednesday, at the Innisfil Recreation Complex, new owner George Floros announced the launch of the Innisfil Spartans, a Junior “C” hockey team in the OHL’s Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) that will practice and play out of the complex’s Red Rink, in the 2022-2023 season.
Taking part in the announcement were Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin and members of local council, MP for Barrie-Innisfil John Brassard, a representative of the office of MPP Andrea Khanjin, and PJHL Commissioner Terry Whiteside.
Whiteside oversees all 63 teams within the League, which was created in 2016 by a merger of eight Junior Leagues – Central, Empire B, Georgian Mid Ontario, Great Lakes, Midwestern, Niagara & District, Souther, and Western.
There are now eight divisions, organized in four conferences, all playing for the Clarence Schmalz Cup – or they were, before COVID hit.
The 2020 season was cut short at the Division Final stage, due to the pandemic, but there are plans to open the 2021-2022 season on Oct. 1, if all goes well - although the Spartans won't be playing until next year.
Junior C is a highly competitive league that is “fifteen percent a development league, 80 percent a destination for players that choose school or careers first,” noted Whiteside
The age of the players ranges from 16 – “They are allowed one 16-year-old.” – to 21 (a maximum of four players. “Everyone else is in-between,” he explained, with an average age of 19.
At the moment, it looks like the Spartans will play in the Northern Conference, in the highly competitive Carruthers Division against teams like the Alliston Hornets, Schomberg Cougars and Orillia Terriers.
“That’s my expectation, but it’s still up in the air,” said Whiteside.
For Floros, accompanied by wife Wendy and sons Jesse and AJ, the launch was the culmination of several years of work, and a dream.
He plans to build the new team, to play in the 2022-2023 season. As he noted in a press release, “The Innisfil Spartans Junior C Hockey Club is an organization committed to the development and success of our young hockey players as team members and student athletes. It’s our goal that our players will be outstanding models in the Innisfil community.”
In the ceremony on a red carpet at centre ice, Floros thanked all who have been instrumental in supporting Innisfil’s “new, great hockey team… and making this a reality.”
He added, “This has been an exciting journey… Today we stand in the arena that will be the home of the Innisfil Spartans.”
Mayor Lynn Dollin spoke of Floros’ determination to bring a Junior-level hockey team to the community, describing the team owner as “somebody who doesn’t take no for an answer, someone who is so passionate about the game of hockey.”
Although the rink, which seats up to 1,000, is currently closed to spectators, Mayor Dollin said, “I hope we can fill the stands when the team starts playing here… in the post-pandemic world.”
The Junior C Spartans will not only provide Innisfil Youth with the opportunity to engage in an active lifestyle, but also to remain in Innisfil while they hone their hockey skills, she noted.
“There is nothing that brings community together more than hockey,” said Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard. “It does bring community together. It allows players who may not have other options to pursue their hockey skills.”
Brassard pointed out that the Innisfil Recreation Complex was designed to support competitive teams that can build a strong fan base.
“The vision of this community really led to this day,” he said, adding that not only is hockey a sport, “it’s a business as well… It’s an exciting day here in Innisfil. I’m looking forward to puck drop in 2022.”
The PJHL has approximately 1,450 players, playing at the Junior C level. “We’re the largest Junior hockey league in the world,” said Whiteside, welcoming the Spartans to the League. “We see a lot of young men who come up with great community spirit, and give back to their community.”
Floros, Mayor Dollin, Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson and Councillors Bill Van Berkel, Kevin Eisses and Ken Fowler all donned orange “Innisfil Spartans” t-shirts, but the official team jerseys and colours are still in the works.
Generic red and white jerseys, marked with the number "22: - for 2022 - were unveiled at the launch, but don't represent the finished product, or logo. “We have a design in progress, and I do assure you we’ll have one of the hottest jerseys,” Floros promised. The final colour scheme will be red, white and gold.
The Town continues to work with the team and the Innisfil Sports Group, owners of the Spartans, on ice time availability.