A form of disparity between the top four teams and the bottom three of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League is rather evident at the current stage of the 2021-2022 season.
Winners of 12 straight games heading into the holiday recess, the Kam River Fighting Walleye is in first place with a rather impressive record of 22-3-1, good for 45 points.
In its first full season as members of the SIJHL, the Fighting Walleye already ranks as a junior hockey success story. Having worked hard to market itself and gain a good reputation in and around the SIJHL and throughout the Canadian Jr. Hockey League, Kam River has a strong ownership group that is complimented by general manager Kevin McCallum and head coach Matt Valley.
The 45 points that Kam River has is 11 more than the second place Red Lake Miners, who have a record of 16-3-2. But Red Lake holds five games in hand on Kam River.
Up next and rounding out the fearsome foursome of the Superior loop are the Thunder Bay North Stars (15-7-3) and the Dryden Ice Dogs (16-9-1) with 33 points apiece. Thunder Bay has a game in hand on Dryden, which won 10 of 11 matches just before the holiday hiatus.
To be sure, there is little difference in determining a favourite from among the Fighting Walleye, Miners, North Stars and Ice Dogs. And keep in mind that all four teams and their general managers could be looking to add impact players ahead of the January 10 trade deadline.
At any rate, then comes the separation between Kam River, Red Lake, Thunder Bay, Dryden and the fifth, sixth, and seventh place teams in the SIJHL.
Wisconsin Lumberjacks have 13 points from a record of 6-17-1, Thief River Falls Norskies have six points from a record of 3-14-0 and the Fort Frances Lakers are within range of the two American-based teams with four points from a record of 2-19-0.
Wisconsin and Thief River Falls will both carry eight game losing streaks into the new year while Fort Frances has dropped 12 games in succession.
If looking for a silver lining, Wisconsin closed out the 2021 part of the regular season schedule with a narrow 6-4 loss to first place Kam River. And last place Fort Frances had third seed Thunder Bay on the ropes before dropping a close 4-3 decision to finish up the 2021 half of the regular season slate.
Meanwhile, over in Thief River Falls, the Norskies made a coaching change just before the holiday break with Brenden Gust taking over from Elliot Bates, who resigned his dual role position as coach and general manager.
Notably, it has been said by more than one league source that Thief River Falls has the potential to be a jewel of an SIJHL franchise as one that is based in northern Minnesota. The Norskies joined the SIJHL in 2016 and had four straight winning seasons before being inactive in 2020-2021 because of COVID-19.
Looking ahead, the SIJHL will have two teams taking part in the 2022 Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada championship tournament.
That is, Red Lake will be the host team for the annual event that, in this case, will be held from May 10 to 14, 2022 in the cozy confines of chilly Cochenour Arena.
Joining host Red Lake at the four-team DHC will be the champions of the SIJHL, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Should Red Lake win the SIJHL championship for the 2021-2022 season, the league’s runner-up team will be the fourth entry into the DHC tournament.
A small town of just over 4,000 residents Red Lake is located about 330 miles northwest of Thunder Bay and is just over 60 miles from the Ontario-Manitoba border.
Recent SIJHL action between the Thunder Bay North Stars and Kam River Fighting Walleye. (photo by Leith Dunick)