If you’ve been reading some of our latest issues or have been paying attention to local sports news, you’ve no doubt seen that Flin Flon has been in the running to hold the National Junior A Championship (NJAC) in 2021.
Flin Flon last hosted the tournament – known then as the Royal Bank Cup – in 2001. There has been some serious doubt whether Flin Flon would be the right place to host such a large-scale event today. Doubters might say Flin Flon is too isolated, that there’s not enough to do, that there’s not enough hotel rooms or restaurants.
Nothing could be further from reality, however. Flin Flon would not only do just fine, it’s the best option on the board.
I was six when the Royal Bank Cup came to town. The hype train arrived long before any of the teams or players showed up at the Whitney Forum.
Before the games began, a few players from one of the entrants, the Saint-Jerome Panthers, came to an assembly at my school. An agreement between the tournament organizers and school officials let the then-four elementary schools around here adopt a visiting team as their own. We drew the Saint-Jerome team and some of their players spoke with us at length with their Quebecois-accented English. We got to know them. Immediately, they weren’t just some strange “other” that were keeping the Bombers from a title. They were people we knew, someone we could root for – when they weren’t playing the Bombers, of course.
Perhaps more importantly, in a more cold, business sense, they were another team the kids could bug their parents into buying tickets to watch. Either way, it worked for every team. There were plenty of youth filling the seats. If I remember right, some of us even skipped class to watch.
Don’t tell my mom that.
Some of you may remember the “Bomb Shelter” set up in the Flin Flon Curling Rink, literally in the same building as the Forum. Granted, some of those memories are probably a little hazy, but still.
You and I both know how much Flin Flonners love to party. We’re good at throwing parties. We party in the bush, for crying out loud.
Picture the curling rink right now. Now, picture packing between 1,000 and 2,000 people in there, with beer at $5 a can and “last call” just two nearly meaningless words on paper.
That place alone probably put the tourney well in the black. For that week, Flin Flon’s isolation was an asset. If it takes you hours to go anywhere else, why not stay here and crack a beer?
Finding a hotel room or a place to eat in Flin Flon wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible. In those days, there were only about three or four main hotels in Flin Flon. Today, most of those places are still open and the rooms are still there. The number of hotel rooms and restaurants in the area are similar to where they were in 2001. Concerns were raised about both ahead of time and neither ended up being an issue. Besides, if you need a place to crash, give me or my buddies a call and you can take the couch.
There were concerns about whether the Whitney Forum was in good enough shape and large enough to hold the tourney. Were there any issues? Nope. The city pumped in hundreds of thousands to refurbish the dressing rooms. Now, they seem ready to pony up some cash for other improvements to the rink.
Flin Flon’s hockey cathedral seats about 1,800 people comfortably. You can bet there were more people than that packed in almost every day.
Do you remember when the Bombers made the semis against Weyburn? I was legitimately scared that the sheer noise that night would cave in the Forum’s walls. The Bomber faithful used noise as a weapon and the team dispatched Weyburn, 4-0. All those fancy blue and gold Royal Bank seat cushions with the handles became excellent projectiles. They sure looked good when people threw them on the ice.
You were proud to be a Bomber fan that night. You were proud to be a Flin Flonner.
The great, silent truth of Flin Flon hanging over us right now like the mythical sword of Damocles is the looming shutdown of Hudbay’s local mining operations.The latest publicly released shutdown date is about three years away, less than a year after when the NJAC would rumble through town if Flin Flon gets the nod.
We can sit around talking about that all day, saying the threats have happened before; that there’s always ore in the ground; whatever. Everyone has their own view on whether “it” will happen, what could take place between now and then, all of that.
The fact is there’s a chance – slim as it may be – that Flin Flon may be on the brink of a massive change. This is real life, not a fairy tale. A happy ending is not assured.
Bringing the NJAC back to Flin Flon could be the economic spark that keeps this town alive - or, at the very least, would be one hell of a party before it all burns down.
We can make it work.
We did once before, and we can do it again.
This time, however, the stakes are perhaps higher than we now know.