Kam River Fighting Walleye had a prize catch of a first full season as members of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League in 2021-2022.
The Fighting Walleye finished in first place during the regular season with a record of 35-7-2 and then swept its well established, cross town rival Thunder Bay North Stars in four straight games in the SIJHL semi-finals. But Kam River was upended by the no. 2 seed Red Lake Miners in the SIJHL championship series — and Fighting Walleye head coach Matt Valley has aspirations of “winning it all” in 2022-2023.
The Fighting Walleye will begin the ’22-23 regular season on September 22-23 with a pair of tough tests on the road against the Dryden Ice Dogs. Dryden, to be sure, has championship ideas of its own. At any rate, Valley likes what he calls a “strong core” of returning and incoming players on the Kam River roster.
“We are very excited to begin the ’22-23 SIJHL regular season in Dryden,” Valley relayed to Hockey News North. “Last season did not end the way we wanted it to. While it was a successful regular season for the most part, in the end, we did not get it done when it counted most. So, this off season we went back to the drawing board and made sure that we at least put as much work in as possible.
“Our entire staff works tirelessly to recruit the right players all year,” Valley continued. “It has been great to see that pay off during training camp and our recent exhibition games. But now, we are looking ahead to the real games. Our staff and organization in general has a bit of a chip on our shoulder after losing to Red Lake in six. We want to prove it to ourselves that we are for real and can go all the way this time. It is going to be very exciting watching these guys on our roster come together over the next several weeks. We believe that we have a strong core of returning players to build around.
“I could honestly name them all, but out of the 14 returnees, it has been (goalie) Eric Vanska, (defenseman) Kyle Lamoureux, (forwards) Carson Gorst, Ethan Lang, Trenton Morriseau, Jeremy Dunmore and Holden Woodcroft headlining that list of returning guys to watch out for this season. They all showed up ready to go for camp and are key pieces for us moving forward,” Valley noted.
“We have also added some new bodies to compliment that core in Euan Morrison, Dax Lang, Ilya Zhilinskiy, Sebastiano Biagi, Jack Orchard and Max Leduc, among others. There are a lot of fresh faces around the room this year and they are all very hungry to prove that they deserve to be here. So far, our skates have been very competitive, which is great to see,” summed up Valley.
Meanwhile, Fighting Walleye general manager Kevin McCallum is also one of high expectations for his crew.
“We had a heavy pre-season with three games with the Soo Eagles (of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League) and our road trip to Manitoba,” McCallum relayed to Hockey News North. “We really wanted some stiff competition out of the gate to see who is willing to compete and earn a job here. We have high expectations for this season from the top and all the way through the club.
“This is a year we expect big things from our returnees. Carson Gorst, Ethan Lang, Holden Woodcroft Trenton Morriseau and Jeremy Dunmore will lead the charge up front. Kyle Lamoureux on the back end will lead a young D and having Eric Vanska and (rookie) Jack Orchard between the pipes puts us in a great spot. The hockey ops staff did a great job bringing in some young talent. Up front Max Leduc and Euan Morrison will provide some offensive punch and Jackson Egner will be a fan favourite at the pond with his style of play. The D core is young and talented. Ilya Zhilinskiy, Seb Biagi, Eli Nielsen, Simon Bienvenue and Max Buffone will be fun to watch,” McCallum noted.
Meantime, on the coaching side, the Fighting Walleye has added Nipigon native Vern Ray to the staff. The 52-year old Ray played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League as a hulking defenseman with the Ottawa 67’s and erstwhile Cornwall Royals. While in the OHL, Ray played for legendary coaches Brian Kilrea, Orval Tessier and Marc Crawford before going on to a lengthy career in the minor pro ranks.
“We couldn’t be happier adding Vern Ray to assist in the organization as a skills coach and mentor for not only the players but our young coaching staff to gain from Vern’s experience and knowledge,” said McCallum.
Prior to its regular season opening matches at Dryden, the Fighting Walleye will continue its exhibition slate this weekend with a pair of games against SIJHL rival Thunder Bay North Stars.