There is no such thing as a sure thing. But there are constants in the Superior International Jr. Hockey League. Such as sustained success and perennial contention from the Kam River Fighting Walleye and the Dryden Ice Dogs.
Win. Win. Win. Just win, baby. And then keep on winning. Like them or not, jealous of them or not, the Fighting Walleye continues to win.
The Fighting Walleye finished in first place in its first full season in the SIJHL before losing in the playoff championship series. Kam River again placed first in their second season and then capped it off by winning the SIJHL championship. And now, in season no. 3 as members of the SIJHL, the Fighting Walleye has continued its winning ways.
The winning tradition began in 2021-2022, which was the debut season in the SIJHL for the Fighting Walleye. A regular season record of 35-7-2 was good enough for a first place finish for the Fighting Walleye. But a quest for a championship as a first year franchise ended for the Fighting Walleye in the finals when it was upended by the veteran-laden Red Lake Miners in a thrilling six game set.
On to the 2022-2023 campaign and it was another first place finish for Kam River, which fashioned a record of 40-11-2. The Fighting Walleye again moved along the playoff trail to the finals and this time it ended in victory for Kam River, which ousted its despised cross-town rival Thunder Bay North Stars in an epic series that went to a seventh and deciding game.
Now, here we are, the 2023-2024 regular season and the winning has continued for the Fighting Walleye, which has a record of 13-2-0 through its first 15 games on the schedule and is in first place in the eight-team SIJHL.
Architects of the Fighting Walleye winner’s circle have been general manager Kevin McCallum and assistant GM Bryan Smeltzer, both of who have been with Kam River since Day One.
And it is worth noting that the Fighting Walleye has had its success to date with three head coaches in as many seasons. First it was Matt Valley, then it was Geoff Walker and now it is Jesse Messier as the Kam River bench boss.
Meantime, top performers for Kam River thus far this season include forwards Jeremy Dunmore, Nick Fagenelli, Carter Poddubny and Ryan Doucette and defenseman Bryden Bell.
This is the 10th season for Kurt Walsten as the head coach and general manager of the big, bad Ice Dogs. Not only has the hard-boiled, hard-driven Walsten led the Ice Dogs to a pair of league championships — Dryden won back to back SIJHL titles in 2017 and 2018 — he positions them as an annual contender.
The Ice Dogs had a regular season record of 37-15-1 in 2022-2023 which followed a 2021-2022 mark of 26-15-14, which included playoff runs in both years.
And this season is no different as the Ice Dogs have a record of 11-6-1 through their first 18 outings of this season.
Top performers for Dryden thus far this season are forwards Max Roby, Carson Devine, McLaren Paulsen, Eli Antoine and Bryce Benfield and defenseman Sebastiano Biagi.