Through addition and subtraction, the Superior International Jr. Hockey League has managed to hold steady with seven teams — six in northwestern Ontario and one in northern Wisconsin.
As can generally be stated about every Junior A hockey league that operates across Canada, there is good and there is not so good about the smaller-sized SIJHL.
• To be sure, three of the SIJHL’s six NW Ontario teams get very good reviews. Dryden Ice Dogs are the charter member of a league that was founded in 2001. From president Mike Sveinson to head coach and general manager Kurt Walsten and his assistants, the Ice Dogs continue to be out in front and ahead of the game — on and off the ice. Meanwhile, the two new kids on the SIJHL block have certainly made for a better league. Kam River Fighting Walleye finished in first place in 2021-2022 in what was its first full season as members of the SIJHL. And the Fighting Walleye — which lost in the league finals to conclude the ’21-22 season — is once again in first place as the 2022-2023 campaign continues to progress while drawing big crowds to NorWest Arena on the outskirts of Thunder Bay. Meanwhile, the expansion Sioux Lookout Bombers have already become a force to reckon with and are chasing Kam River for the lead while engaged with Dryden and Red Lake for second place and playing to sizeable crowds on home ice.
• Then there are those reigning champion Red Lake Miners. There was a mass player exodus out of Red Lake during the off season. And Red Lake’s championship head coach and general manager of 2021-2022, Geoff Walker, is now with Kam River and can’t stop raving about how the Fighting Walleye runs its program on and off the ice. Still, Red Lake did manage to attract another Walker to town. 28-year old Kevin Walker (no relation to Geoff) has a good reputation and has climbed up the coaching ladder in a good way via the Timmins Majors of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League. And Walker has been able to restock the Miners in short order and has them in the top tier of the standings thus far this season.
• As for the Thunder Bay North Stars and Fort Frances Lakers, let us defer to a catch phrase that goes something like this: “If there is nothing good to say, it is best to say nothing.”
• Standing alone as the SIJHL’s only American team following the folding of the Minnesota-based Thief River Falls during the 2021-2022 season, the Wisconsin Lumberjacks have carried on. The Lumberjacks have had an up and down 2022-2023 season while showing signs of resurgence since a lengthy losing streak. Having joined the SIJHL in 2019, the Lumberjacks are a family-run SIJHL franchise. And the Lein family has forged a good, clean reputation for treating its players well.
(above photo by Leith Dunick)