Scenes from the SIJHL

June 4, 2022

It was an uneven 2021-2022 season in which teams played varying numbers of games including one league member that called it quits mid way through the schedule. Still, there were teams and players in the Superior International Jr. Hockey League that rose to different forms of prominence.

• If there is a story book for success for a franchise in its first full season it was well written by the Kam River Fighting Walleye. Besides a first place finish during the 2021-2022 regular season as the new kids on the block in the SIJHL, Kam River (along with the Dryden Ice Dogs) were league attendance leaders. Along the way, an .818 winning percentage and a record of 35-7-2 was enough for Kam River to edge the Red Lake Miners for top spot on the SIJHL regular season standings rung. With 32-year old SIJHL coach of the year Matt Valley at the helm, the Fighting Walleye then swept its cross-town rival Thunder Bay North Stars in four games in the semi-finals of the playoffs before losing to veteran-laden Red Lake in six in the SIJHL championship series. Led by president Derek Geddes and general manager Kevin McCallum, the Fighting Walleye has quickly become a franchise fish bowl while playing out of cozy Norwest Arena on the outskirts of Thunder Bay.

Zach Fortin of Kam River was named the SIJHL’s best defenseman.

• Four standout 20-year olds from Kam River parlayed strong seasons into high level college hockey commitments. Locally developed defenseman Zach Fortin earned a commitment from the Lakehead Thunderwolves of Ontario University Athletics while goalie Austin Madge and forwards Dayton Clarke and Alex Enegren were all recruited to play for the Oregon Ducks of the Division 1, American Collegiate Hockey Association effective the 2022-2023 season. Fortin, who was the heart and soul of the Fighting Walleye, potted 44 points in 42 regular season games en route to winning the SIJHL’s best defenseman award.

• Combing speed, energy and good size as the epitome of a shutdown forward with a good motor, Pineshish Whiteduck ended a well-traveled junior career in 2021-2022 in the SIJHL with Dryden after suiting up with the Hearst Lumberjacks, Sudbury Cubs and Espanola Express of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. In 28 games with Dryden, Whiteduck netted two goals, seven assists, nine points as a defensive specialist and top penalty killer for the Ice Dogs. Come the fall, Whiteduck will combine education and hockey with the Sault College Cougars of the Division 2, American Collegiate Hockey Association. Besides his hockey ability, it was Whiteduck’s good character and determination that attracted him to Sault College head scout Charly (Old Goat) Murray.

Maxime Collette of Dryden won the SIJHL scoring title. (photo by Leith Dunick)

• Puck wizard Maxime Collette certainly finished his junior career with a flourish. Not only did the pint sized forward lead Dryden in scoring but his 45 goals, 36 assists, 81 points gave Collette the SIJHL scoring title. Collette was also a special teams threat in winning the scoring race. Not only did he click for 11 goals, 11 assists, 22 points on the Dryden power play but he netted three goals, one assist, four points while the Ice Dogs were shorthanded.

• In what might be a junior A record of some sort, Dryden used seven goalies over the course of the 2021-2022 season — and all seven won at least one game. Late season addition Cole Johnston ended up as the Ice Dogs starter down the stretch and the now graduated goalie won nine games for Dryden, including all five of its playoff victories.

• As Red Lake finished in second place during the regular season with a .797 winning percentage from a record of 28-6-3, the Miners then ousted no. 3 seed Dryden and no. 1 seed Kam River in successive six game playoff series triumphs to emerge as league champions. Notably, a consistent points producer for Red Lake throughout the entire season was hustling 19-year old forward Brady Harroun. He finished third on the Red Lake scoring chart with 25 goals, 26 assists, 51 points in 37 regular season games. And in 12 playoff matches en route to the Miners winning the SIJHL championship, Harroun netted five goals, four assists, nine points, which was fourth best for Red Lake. Then, in four games at the Centennial Cup, national junior A hockey championship tournament, Harroun led all Red Lake scorers with three goals, two assists, five points.

Wisconsin defenseman Zach Carson, with a scoring chance against Red Lake.

• Resilience is a good word to describe the Wisconsin Lumberjacks. An example of that came in a 10 day span towards the end of the regular season. It would have been easy for Wisconsin to pack it in following a late February road trip to Red Lake in which the Lumberjacks were literally lambasted by the Miners by 13-1 and 17-4 scores. But in a return match on March 1, the Lumberjacks managed to put the two shellackings aside and in a stunning reversal, Wisconsin scored a 5-1 home ice victory over Red Lake. The Lumberjacks later put together a five game winning streak to finish the regular season with a record of 16-25-2 before losing in the first round of the playoffs to Thunder Bay. Team closeness is said to be a big part of the Lumberjacks culture. As workhorse Wisconsin goalie Kyler Lowden told Hockey News North, the Lein family that owns the Lumberjacks treats their players like they are part of their family. Doug Lein is the general manager and coach of the Lumberjacks and his wife, Sophia, is team president. Lein’s parents, Doug Sr. and Cindy, are also part of the Lumberjacks family ownership group.

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