Teaming Up

Hockey team helps round out Eau Claire`s organized athletics roster

Luc Anthony

    I  don’t know that I recognize little ole’ Eau Claire anymore. Organized athletics are flocking to the metro area like Minnesota sports stars to Boston: there’s another new one every two to three years. This is not the Eau Claire sports scene I grew up with, and I like the change.

You may have heard about the latest addition to the roster: The Eau Claire (or Chippewa Valley, or Western Wisconsin) Something-or-Others of the new Wisconsin Junior Hockey League. No, they don’t have a name yet, though you have to admit Something-or-Others is unique. The WJHL hits the ice this fall, aiming to field eight teams. Get used to seeing Rhinelander, Stoughton, and Monroe on the screen during the 10 pm TV sports segment. We’ll have some of the top 17- to 20-year-olds in the state and region coming through Hobbs Ice Arena throughout the winter, sort of a hockey version of the Northwoods League.   

What I like is, for the fourth time this decade, the Eau Claire metropolitan area (doesn’t that term make it sound like a big urban center?) has managed to land a team playing in a league featuring an “L” in its acronym. Anytime you have an “L” in your name, you come across as more important than you may otherwise be perceived. NWL? WJHL? NEFL? They sound close enough to the likes of the NFL, NHL and others to at least seem big-time, and seeming big-time is what we have been waiting way too long for in western Wisconsin.

Eau Claire went a long time without bringing in anything even resembling minor league athletics. True, the Eau Claire Cavaliers filled the gap for many years with some exquisite baseball in the Tomter Era. Yet, for a city the size of Eau Claire, I was embarrassed to see the city thoroughly incapable of securing a team (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) part of a structured league — a league with division titles, playoffs, and the prospect that a decent number of players might someday reach stardom.