The new owners of the Wallaceburg Lakers have been officially introduced.
Jim McCrae, president of the Great Lakes Junior ‘C’ Hockey League franchise, welcomed the partners of the Byrne Laus Hockey Corp. on Wednesday afternoon – Joe Byrne Sr., Joe Byrne Jr., and Dr. Boris Laus.
“It’s a very important day for Wallaceburg and a very important day for hockey,” Byrne Sr. told the crowd in the upstairs portion of the Wallaceburg Legion.
“We have very deep hockey roots in our family and I know Dr. Laus does as well. We’re very excited to be in Wallaceburg. We’re very excited to take on this team. Our commitment is to keep this team in Wallaceburg and to help it prosper in Wallaceburg.”
Byrne Sr., who is a farmer and lawyer in Essex County, said he doesn’t want to guarantee a championship right off the bat, but their intention is to raise a banner inside Wallaceburg Memorial Arena.
“When we talked to Jim and the executive and saw the deep commitment that there was to working with this team, keeping it in Wallaceburg and making it a very successful team in Wallaceburg, it meshed so well with our ideas of where this hockey program should be and what we wanted to do with it,” he said.
As the past-chair of the Windsor-Essex economic development corporation board of directors, Byrne Sr. said he is always interested in economic opportunities.
“Bringing business opportunities and prosperity to a region, that’s what I’m all about,” he said.
“We see great opportunities here in Wallaceburg. I’m going to be bringing my business contacts and if we can encourage them to set up shop and do business in Wallaceburg, that’s going to be one of our objectives.”
He added: “I see it this way, I see the hockey team in the town, the Wallaceburg Lakers in this town as a signpost for the whole town. We want to make the Wallaceburg Lakers a very successful team. We want not only the other teams in the Great Lakes league, we want the OHL teams and the Junior ‘B’ teams and the colleges and the semi-pro’s to know all about the Wallaceburg Lakers, know that it is a professional organization and it is run with professional acumen. ”
Byrne Sr. he wants to fill Wallaceburg’s arena and make it a “great place to be.
“We want to make the rink a fun place to be for not only hockey people, but the kids and the seniors and everybody. Our commitment is unreserved,” he said.
Dr. Laus, who owns a veterinary clinic in Windsor, said he believes Lakers belongs in Wallaceburg and can prosper here.
“You’ve got a great community here,” he said.
“I think we can gather up the support to make this a championship team. We do have a lot of contacts throughout the hockey community, so I feel with what already exists here, and with our credentials, we can bring in some good players, some quality players and make this an exciting game… a fast, hard hitting team. An exciting place to go on a Wednesday night in Wallaceburg and hopefully win that championship sooner than later.”
Byrne Jr., who played junior hockey himself when he was younger, said he is already working on an off-ice training system that would compare to a Junior ‘A’ program.
“We’ve already started working hard on recruiting and push this thing for the long-term, with some stability and some success in there,” he said.
Working closely with the Wallaceburg Minor Hockey Association is something he hopes to do as well moving forward, Byrne Jr. said.
McCrae said bringing the three investors into the fold, “is the way of the future.
“We have had everything here, we have the fan base here, but we just don’t have the money and town support to do it. There have been industries lost, we’ve had school closings. They have guaranteed to keep the team in town for 10 years. As far as I can see, they are a good hockey family, good outstanding people. Mr. Byrne Sr. has even written a couple of books about hockey. I’m quite impressed with the credentials they have. The OHA thought themselves that it was a very good move for Wallaceburg,” McCrae said.
The president of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) told McCrae everything should be finalized within the next 15 days.
“So in 15 days these guys will be the boss… it will still run with a public board,” McCrae said, adding he will be staying on at the president of the board and as a team manager to look after the owner’s interests.
Some changes are occurring in the Great Lakes Junior ‘C’ Hockey League as well, which will allow teams the opportunity to recruit more players
“Before we used to have to just use Chatham-Kent and a little bit of Lambton County, now we can draw from anywhere from just south of London, near Strathroy, all the way to Sarnia, across to Windsor and back up to West Lorne,” McCrae said.
“So it means an opening up of players of calibre. It’s not anyone’s fault here, but there is just not enough children to support a Junior ‘C’ hockey team. So the whole league is doing this and we’re not alone, it’s happening all across Ontario.”
McCrae said the team’s priority will be have local kids on the team first, if they are the calibre of the player they are looking for.
The Lakers also showed on a new logo for the upcoming season.
“We’re bringing back the serpent,” McCrae said. “We have modified it a bit, it’ll make it stand out a bit more. The other one was so busy you couldn’t see a lot of things in it. That is what will be on all of our shirts and coats and everything.”
The Lakers have struggled in recent years, missing the playoffs for five consecutive seasons.
Wallaceburg finished last in the league in 2015/2016, finishing with a 3-37-0 record.
– Photo: From left, Derek Ellis, head coach; Ritch Kanally, general manager; Joe Byrne Jr., co-owner; Dr. Boris Laus, co-owner; Joe Byrne Sr., co-owner; Jim McCrae, president; and Pat Henderson, past-president and life member.