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Coach Fired, Players Leaving Town, League Not Paying Bills: Are the Saw Blades Done in Eau Claire?

By: Bob Gallaher and Mary Rinzel Email
By: Bob Gallaher and Mary Rinzel Email

It appears more and more likely that the Eau Claire Saw Blades, a new junior hockey team, will never again drop the puck at Hobbs. Now, the team's former coach and others are speaking out.

“A lot of promises were made, but not kept,” says Stu Taylor, Hobbs Ice Center manager.

Taylor has been waiting for a more a week for the $10,000 payment from Wisconsin Junior Hockey League Franchise Director Scott Schwendeman. Taylor says the team is done at Hobbs and any decision on possible legal action against Schwendeman and the WJHL will seriously be considered.

“That’s something the city will have to think about if they don't fulfill their obligation and keep the promises that they made as far as the team being placed here,” Taylor says. “We're hopeful, but this is a pretty big scar that may never be healed.”

David Kohn from Green Bay told us Friday that he will be taking over the coaching and general managing duties of the Saw Blades from previous coach, Todd Holmes. That was news to Holmes who went on camera Saturday morning to say that he was never told by Schwendeman that he was out of a job.

“I got it via an e-mail he sent to a parent and they sent to me asking why I quit. I told them I didn't quit; I’m still here. So, no, nobody ever told me anything about being fired or quitting.”

The story is the same for former Stoughton Thunder Head Coach Ken Orr who told us Saturday that several of his former players and their parents have filed civil and a class action lawsuit against Schwendeman. Their day in Dane County Court is scheduled for November 24.

Orr says he feels terrible for his players who mortgaged their future for the opportunity to play junior hockey.

“This is their time to develop, earn a scholarship, and plan their futures. It just seems like they're being taken advantage of and that's not right,” Orr says.

Former WJHL Player Director Rex Holdren was unknowingly let go by Schwendeman back on October 12. Holdren told us on the phone Saturday morning that he too will be taking legal action against Schwendeman.

“It’s really tough on the players and the coaches. They've done a tremendous job staying on the ice as long as they can and they should be commended for that,” Holdren says. “Eau Claire is a great city. It deserves a hockey team, but one that's run by the right group of people.”

“I just feel bad for the boys,” Holmes says.

A couple of Holmes former players joined him at Hobbs for our interview Saturday morning, but declined to go on camera. Many are leaving Eau Claire this weekend, left with broken dreams and unfulfilled promises.

Numerous attempts by WEAU 13 News to contact Scott Schwendeman have been unanswered.

PREVIOUS STORIES ON THE SAW BLADES SAGA:

FRIDAY NOV. 7, 10:30 P.M.:

Former coach says league never paid him and cheated his players.

Todd Holmes says he was never officially let go. He says he knew something was wrong only after his league phone was shut off and his picture came off the league website.

Holmes says he moved to Eau Claire from Ohio with 18 years of experience to coach the Saw Blades. Now, he and several players are at a loss.

FRIDAY NOV. 7, 8 P.M.:

The saga with the Eau Claire Saw Blades continues with a new coach.

As we first told you Wednesday night, the Saw Blades, a new junior hockey team, are off the Eau Claire Ice, at least until the city gets paid thousands of dollars in rent.

We talked to the team's new coach Friday night. He says the Wisconsin Junior Hockey League is working hard to iron things out with the city.

David Kohn from Green Bay tells us he'll be taking over coaching and general managing duties here in Eau Claire.

Kohn says previous coach Todd Holmes was released from the Saw Blades last week. Holmes, however, was at Hobbs Ice Center with some players Thursday night, hoping the league franchise director would show up to pay the city.

Right now, the WJHL owes the city $9000 for the past two months of rent at Hobbs.

Kohn told us Friday on the phone, the league will make that payment in full this weekend. He says the WJHL never got the invoices.

As for the team, he says most of the original players will be back on the ice with some new teammates as soon as possible.

"As a first year league, there are going to be problems and there will be difficulties. We just ask the community to help us deal with them. I want to get the kids in here. This is about the kids. It's not about the league and it's not about me. It's about the kids and their future, " Kohn says.

Right now, several teenage hockey players and their parents are suing the WJHL.

Kohn says despite this rough start, the league is planning on expanding further next year. He says those plans include bringing two Wisconsin teams back that folded this year and adding two others in Chicago and Minnesota.

We talked to Stu Taylor, the manager at Hobbs. He says he and Todd Holmes were unaware of Holmes' release from the team.

We'll continue to follow this story to see if the league pays up this weekend and what comes of the lawsuit against it.


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