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 Ontario Hockey Association’s Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) that will practise and play out of the facility’s Red Rink beginning in the 2022-23 season.
Taking part in the announcement were Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin and members of local council, Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard, a representative of the office of Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin, and PJHL commissioner Terry Whiteside.
Whiteside oversees all 63 teams within the PJHL, which was created in 2016 by a merger of eight junior leagues – Central, Empire 'B', Georgian Mid-Ontario, Great Lakes, Midwestern, Niagara and District, Southern, and Western.
There are now eight divisions, organized into four conferences, all playing for the Clarence Schmalz Cup. Or they were, at least, 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 2021-22 season on Oct. 1, if all goes well. Although, the Spartans won't be playing until next year.
Junior 'C' players range in age from 16 – team are allowed one 16-year-old – to 21, which is the maximum for four players in the roster. The average age is typically 19.
At the moment, it looks like the Spartans will play in the Northern Conference in the highly competitive Carruthers Division against teams such as the Alliston Hornets, the Schomberg Cougars and the 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 A.J., the launch was the culmination of several years of work and a dream.
Floros says he plans to build the new team to play in the 2022-23 season. He says the organization is committed to the development and success hockey players as team members and student-athletes.
"It’s our goal that our players will be outstanding models in the Innisfil community," he added.
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.”
“This has been an exciting journey. … Today we stand in the arena that will be the home of the Innisfil Spartans.”
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin called the team owner “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, Dollin said she's looking forward to seeing the seats filled “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 remain in the community 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. "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, who welcomed 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.”
Several local dignitaries donned orange Innisfil Spartans T-shirts, but the official jerseys and colours are still in the works.
Generic red and white jerseys, marked with No. 22 for 2022, were unveiled 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 said.
The final colour scheme will be red, white and gold.