Sawblades Gets 'The Axe'
financial trouble sends Sawblades skidding
Brent Widmark, photos by Andrea Paulseth |
The Eau Claire Sawblades were supposed to be well into the inaugural season of the Wisconsin Junior Hockey League. They were supposed to have a full roster of players looking to draw the attention of college scouts. The players were supposed to be staying with billet (or “host”) families, who were supposed to be financially compensated. Coaches were supposed to get paid. Ice time at Hobbs Arena was supposed to be paid for and used. None of that has happened.
Hobbs Ice Center told the Sawblades that they could no longer use their ice until they were paid, a debt that is now $9,850. What has followed has been lies, rumors, accusations of theft and sabotage, and broken promises, all resulting in a lost season for players who signed on with the WJHL.
The WJHL’s director, Scott Schwendeman, 26, was supposed to appear at Hobbs on multiple occasions to make payment, but Hobbs manager Stu Taylor says that he has not had contact with Schwendeman since Nov. 5. About the Sawblades ever returning to Hobbs Ice Center, he said, “Each day that passes presents less of an opportunity for them.”
Former Sawblades coach Todd Holmes should have been paid for two months of work, but it also never happened.
“None of us have been paid,” Holmes said of the league coaches. “The Rhinelander coach got paid two checks and they were both bad.”
Holmes was let go by the league last week but it is unclear why. WQOW in Eau Claire reported that Schwendeman said it was “due to many infractions.”
The new Sawblades coach, David Kohn said Schwendeman told him Holmes was “released a week ago because he felt that it wasn’t his responsibility to do the GM job. He thought that he could be just a head coach and that’s it.”
About that accusation, Holmes says that Schwendeman wanted him to hire more staff for the Sawblades. “I wouldn’t hire anybody that he couldn’t pay. It wouldn’t have been right for me to wreck their lives and not get paid.”
Instead of moms and dads driving 10 or 12 hours to watch their sons play, they have been driving that distance to pick them up and bring them home. Tom Farrah of Michigan wanted only to help his son, Tommy, realize his dream of playing collegiate hockey so he helped Tommy get on a juniors team, a route many youths take shortly after high school to try and draw the attention of scouts.
Farrah paid $2,150 in fees, $1,500 of which was supposed to cover monthly payments to his billet family. Farrah says Schwendeman wanted all the money for the billet familes so he could distribute it himself, something Farrah says he later found out was unusual for a league to do. But, Farrah says, “My billet family only got the first payment.”
So where did the money go? The billet families didn’t get it. The ice rinks aren’t getting it. The coaches aren’t getting it. Nobody seems to know right now.
Schwendeman didn’t respond to several voice messages left for him.
Farrah was told a host of things by Schwendeman. “He promised two or three hours of ice time each day and two or three hours of dry land training.” That didn’t happen. When Farrah dropped his son off in Eau Claire, it was three weeks before any other players or coaches arrived in town, three weeks Tommy Farrah could have spent at home.
When the Sawblades stopped playing all together, Farrah called Schwendeman. “Scott said all player fees were to be paid before the kids could go on the ice, when in fact, it was the ice rinks that shut them out.”
Eventually, somewhere in all of this mess and confusion surrounding the league, the team, and Schwendeman, Tom Farrah got a bad feeling and drove to Eau Claire to pick his son up and take him home.
The losers in this are plenty. Many people are out money and are filing lawsuits against Schwendeman and the league, including Farrah. But the players are out of a season of hockey and a chance to catch the eye of a scout.
Holmes said he helped six players find new teams, but added that many families just can’t afford to pay for it all over again.
He adds that, “The league would have been a great thing for Wisconsin. It would have kept some of the better players here, instead of going out of state. They could have had a lot more involvement with Chippewa and Eau Claire.”