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Privateers get a ‘new’ team

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — A lesser organization would have folded by now.

Not the Thousand Islands Privateers. In the last month, owner Nicole Kirnan had to lease and then run the Bonnie Castle Arena and restaurant just so her team could play out the season. Then on Friday afternoon, she learned all but five players refused to play against Akwesasne that night.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined people wouldn’t show up for a game,” Kirnan said. “We’ve definitely hit some major hurdles in the last month. If we make it through this year, we’ll make it through anything.”

Even her coach, Marc LeFebvre, sided with the players, who felt Akwesasne played too dirty to warrant a game. The Warriors are currently on probation with the Federal Hockey League and another incident will result in expulsion from the league.

In other words, the likelihood of an incident was low. It didn’t stop almost the entire team from boycotting, and the Privateers promptly lost, 25-6, on Friday with replacement players. An incident did not occur.

It left Kirnan with a difficult choice: Allow those players to return to the team, quickly find others to fill the roster, or fold. She first chose to release all the boycotting players, and LeFebvre, from the team. Then, she hit the phones and hasn’t stopped.

“Believe it or not, especially in this economy, there are a lot of guys who want to get paid to play hockey,” Kirnan said. “We signed 10 guys and it took me 10 hours.”

The five players who made the trip to Akwesasne — Paul Kelly, Adam McAllister, Chase Tippin, Brad Smulders and Matt Anthony – called on friends just so the Privateers could have a game on Saturday. It was, naturally, against Akwesasne.

In front of 1,207 fans who packed the Bonnie Castle Arena, the Privateers defeated the Warriors, 9-5.

“If you’re going to choose against the team, you’re not going to be on the team,” said Kelly, who has assumed a role as player-coach. “Now these guys are kicking themselves because they don’t have a job.”

There’s still much work needed before the Privateers stabilize and finish out the season. For one, Kirnan has to find a new coach. Bill Blazak, a coach in the Syracuse area, is serving as the interim head coach.

She also continues to work to fill the roster for the remaining 10 games and playoffs, which three days ago looked promising for a championship run.

The Privateers are almost assured no worse than second place in the FHL regular-season standings. They hold a 19-point lead over third-place Brooklyn.

That lead was built by players no longer with the team and leaves the question of how good will the revamped Privateers be.

“We’re going to take a couple days off to see what we can get,” Smulders said. “It was nice tonight to give it to (Akwesasne). It felt good to win.”

Kirnan, although caught by surprise, has worked quickly to shore up enough players to keep playing. She plans to fill the remaining slots this week and have the Privateers still pursuing the FHL title.

“I’ve been involved with hockey for 30 years and have never seen anyone think it’s optional to show up to a game,” Kirnan said. “But we’re not going to change our goals as a team based on the actions of those individuals.”

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