Thunder Bay North Stars are no longer the lone junior hockey act in town. Just a few miles away on the outskirts of T-Bay town, the Kam River Fighting Walleye is establishing itself as a Superior International Jr. Hockey League power house as the new kids on the block.
In its first full season as members of the SIJHL — COVID-19 forced cancellation of the 2020-2021 campaign after just a handful of games — Kam River sits in first place in the SIJHL standings, well ahead of its cross-town Thunder Bay rivals.
The Fighting Walleye has won 13 straight games and takes a record of 23-3-1 and 47 points into play this week. The North Stars, meanwhile, are tied for third place in the SIJHL standings with 33 points from a record of 15-8-3.
The two teams recently met to begin the paused start to the 2022 segment of the season and Kam River scored a 7-4 home-ice decision over Thunder Bay at the sardine can that is NorWest Arena.
Despite playing in an arena that is about one-fifth the size of Fort William Gardens, which is the home of the North Stars, the Fighting Walleye has outdrawn its cross-town rivals at the gate this season, which is a testament to the Kam River marketing department.
On the ice, the North Stars — branded in 2010, they most recently won the SIJHL championship in 2018-2019, before the Fighting Walleye was even born — are a legitimate contender again this season as evidenced by their 15-8-3 record, which is none too shabby.
But it has been the Fighting Walleye, with its 23-3-1 record, that is not only the talk of the T-Bay hockey town but a feel good story for the SIJHL itself as well as new league commissioner Darrin Nicholas.
Still, despite Kam River’s lofty standing, Fighting Walleye general manager Kevin McCallum is well aware of the opposition teams.
Besides Kam River and Thunder Bay, two other SIJHL teams are well above the .500 mark — Red Lake Miners have a 16-3-2 record and the Dryden Ice Dogs are at 16-9-1. Notably, Dryden has won 10 of its last 11 games.
And as McCallum noted, the fifth place Wisconsin Lumberjacks are 3-0-1 in their last four outings to improve their record to 10-18-2.
“I think it’s anybody’s league to win,” McCallum told Hockey News North.
Photo: Kam River players celebrate a goal in the recent win over Thunder Bay.
ON TAP: Looking ahead to this Friday-Saturday weekend, all six SIJHL teams are slated to play two games apiece.
Kam River is at Wisconsin for a pair, Thunder Bay heads up to Dryden for two, and the Fort Frances Lakers will twice play host to Red Lake.