A showdown between the top two teams in the Superior International Jr. Hockey League is on the marquee as the first place Kam River Fighting Walleye is set to play host to the second seed Dryden Ice Dogs tonight and Saturday evening at NorWest Arena.
Kam River takes a record of 22-5-1 and 45 points into the weekend home games against Dryden, which has 35 points from a record of 17-8-1. The Ice Dogs have two games in hand on the Walleye.
The Fighting Walleye has a record of 11-1-0 since parting ways with reigning SIJHL coach of the year Matt Valley. Kam River began the 2022-2023 season with a record of 11-4-1 under Valley, who is also a full time school teacher in the Thunder Bay area. Deciding that it wanted a full time head coach, the Fighting Walleye moved on from Valley and hired Geoff Walker to replace him.
The 35-year old Walker, who expertly piloted the Red Lake Miners to the 2021-2022 SIJHL championship, had taken a pro coaching job in Sweden to begin the ’22-23 season. But he jumped at the chance to return to Canada and take the helm in Kam River. Meanwhile, as they waited for Walker to arrive in Kam River, assistant coach Vern Ray and general manager Kevin McCallum ran the Fighting Walleye bench and went undefeated in five games. Kam River has since gone 6-1-0 — and won six in a row — with Walker as the head coach.
And as Walker has settled in as the Kam River bench boss after such a whirlwind experience, he appreciates what he has with the Fighting Walleye.
“I think our team is very deep in a lot of different areas. I think team speed is probably our biggest strength along with goaltending. I am really excited to see what we can accomplish here into the second half of the season and into the playoffs,” he relayed to Hockey News North.
Meanwhile, having known of the reputation of the Kam River franchise from when he was with Red Lake, Walker appreciates the Fighting Walleye — which is just in its second season as members of the SIJHL — even more now.
“I could see from the outside that Kam River was a very well run outfit from the organization side and the hockey ops side. But seeing it up close and how many people put in the work and pull in the same direction has been great,” Walker told Hockey News North. “I believe we have everything we need to be successful and win a Bill Salonen Cup. It won’t be easy with some of the parity in the league this year but we are all looking forward to the challenge.”