Fanatical. Feisty. Fierce. Fiery. Frantic. Frenzied. The two semi-final sets in the Superior International Jr. Hockey League have the makings of being about any or all of the aforementioned synonyms.
No. 1 seed Kam River Fighting Walleye is up against no. 4 seed Thunder Bay North Stars while no. 2 seed Red Lake Miners and no. 3 seed Dryden Ice Dogs represent the other best-of-seven final four pairing.
Really, while there is home-ice advantage that always looms as a possible factor, there is no clear-cut preference to emerge from the semis and proceed to the finals.
KAM RIVER V. THUNDER BAY
The North Stars have gone to great lengths to portray themselves as decided underdogs against the Fighting Walleye in this matchup of cross-town rivals. And maybe they are. But Thunder Bay is a long-standing SIJHL franchise and the reigning champions while Kam River is in its first full season as members of the league.
At any rate, attempts by the North Stars to try to portray themselves as dark horses or long shots is most likely intended as a public relations/social media ploy to try to put pressure on the overachieving Fighting Walleye.
TOP PERFORMERS: With 32-year SIJHL coach of the year Matt Valley at the helm, Kam River put together a story book regular season in scoring an .818 winning percentage from 44 games. Key members of the Fighting Walleye include goalie Austin Madge, defensemen Zach Fortin and Kersey Reich and forwards Trenton Morriseau, Alex Enegren, Jeremy Dunmore, Ethan Lang, Carson Gorst, Holden Woodcroft and Dayton Clarke. This is a team well assembled by general manager Kevin McCallum.
Meanwhile, a veteran coach and former Ontario Hockey League mainstay forward with the erstwhile North Bay Centennials, 53-year old Rob DeGagne heads a Thunder Bay crew that features goalie Jordan Smith, forwards Hunter Foreshew, Lou Vesperini, Edison Weeks, Dimitri Trahiotis, Pier-Luc Bedard and Hayden Cattani and defensemen Kyler Belluz and Matt Halushak. Halushak has Ontario Hockey League experience with the Soo Greyhounds.
FORECAST: A see-saw series that goes to a seventh and deciding game with Kam River winning on the home ice of Norwest Arena.
RED LAKE V. DRYDEN
This one could come down to a coaching showdown between 34-year old Geoff Walker, the new age, tech savvy bench boss of the Miners and the mercurial Kurt Walsten, the 54-year old throwback coach of the Ice Dogs who has two SIJHL championships on his resume from his lengthy run in Dryden. Walker and Walsten also serve as general manager of their respective teams, meaning they had the final say on roster decisions.
TOP PERFORMERS: Kiev Kineshanko is the main man in net for Red Lake, which has an arsenal that includes defensemen Kenyon Nyman and Brandon Rossetti and dangerous forwards Jordan Baranesky, Ryan Hunter, Brady Harroun, Nic Bolin, Mathieu Belanger and Ryan Howe.
Cole Johnston emerged as the starting goalie for Dryden in the opening round of the playoffs. If need be, the Ice Dogs have a good backup plan in Eric Clark. Defensemen of note for the Ice Dogs are Jackson Jacques, Jordan Gagnon and Lane Snell and top end forwards include league MVP Maxime Collette, Cameron Ware, Brady Frattinger, Ondrej Bardos and Derek Koivisto.
FORECAST: Many with a say are taking Red Lake to win the series in five or six games. But if — if — Dryden can stay away from a penchant for risk-taking play that includes needless penalties, the Ice Dogs are more than capable of winning this series and advancing to the league championship round.