Ice sheets will soon return to game use up in northwestern Ontario. The Superior International Jr. Hockey League will join other provincial alliances of similar stature in a recommence of the 2021-2022 regular season that was paused due to the Omicron variant.
As the SIJHL’s five Ontario members — Kam River Fighting Walleye, Red Lake Miners, Thunder Bay North Stars, Dryden Ice Dogs and Fort Frances Lakers — prepare to emerge from provincial government shutdown relative to Omicron, the 2022 segment of the league’s regular season schedule does have four games in the books.
The SIJHL’s two American squads, the fifth seed Wisconsin Lumberjacks and sixth place Thief River Falls Norskies, recently played a home and home series that totalled four games. Two of them were decided in the shootout as the teams split the four game set with each winning a road match.
Top performers for Wisconsin over the four games were forwards Salvatore Poggiali and Brock Weimer. Poggiali potted three goals, five assists, eight points while Weimer — formerly of the Espanola Express of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League — posted 3-4-7 totals.
For Thief River Falls, goalie Sean Guerin had a 1-0-1 record in the two games he played and stopped 79 of 83 shots.
Wisconsin now has a record of 8-18-2 and is seven points ahead of Thief River Falls, which has a 5-15-1 mark. The Norskies have seven games in hand on the Lumberjacks.
Meanwhile, two of the top Ontario-based teams of the SIJHL will sports different looks since they last played games before the Christmas/New Year holiday break. First place Kam River and third rung Dryden both made multiple major moves ahead of the January 10 trade deadline.
Kam River, which has 45 points from a record of 22-3-1, added forward Dayton Clarke from the Elliot Lake Red Wings of the NOJHL, forwards Logan Gallaher and Anthony Oviedo from the La Ronge Ice Wolves of the Saskatchewan Jr. Hockey League, defenseman Jack Michell from the Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL and defenseman Max McNeil from the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Jr. Hockey League among others.
The Fighting Walleye traded three players — defenseman Calum McGill and forwards Owen Lancaster and Kjell Osborne — to Elliot Lake for Clarke while the other deals were cash transactions.
Besides the newcomers, of the many facets that there are to like about first-place Kam River, one is the 1-2 net duo of Austin Madge and Eric Vanska, another is a blue line corps that features Zach Fortin, Kersey Reich, Kyle Lamoureux and Johnny McCollum and another is the high scoring troika of Alex Enegren, Trenton Morriseau and Ethan Lang.
Notably, Madge has the best numbers of any goalie in the SIJHL, Fortin is arguably the league’s best defenseman and Enegren, Morriseau and Lang are among the top 10 scorers in the SIJHL.
Over to Dryden, highlighting the Ice Dog additions are 20-year old forward Nakoda Thunderchief, who was acquired from the Fort Frances Lakers of the SIJHL — and two players obtained in separate deals with teams in the NOJHL.
Dryden, which will take 33 points and a record of 16-9-1 into play resumption, sent forward Ian Kimble and defenseman Rylen Kleist to Fort Frances in exchange for the hulking, 6-foot-2, 220 pound Thunderchief, a character individual who was the Lakers team captain.
The moves with the NOJHL teams had Dryden obtain serviceable, hard-working 20-year old winger Pineshish Whiteduck from the Espanola Express for 20-year goalie Jordan Belley and acquire 18-year old defenseman Tie Jacobs from the French River Rapids in a cash exchange.
The departure of Belley, who had eight wins in the Dryden net, leaves the Ice Dogs with 19-year olds Eric Clark and Mason Matthew and recently signed 20-year old Cole Johnston as the team’s trio of twine tenders. Notably, Clark is also a former NOJHL’er, having been obtained by Dryden from the Blind River Beavers in December.
In another move, Dryden also added 20-year old defenseman Jordan Gagnon, formerly of the Saskatchewan Jr. Hockey League and the U.S. Premier Hockey League.
Notably, in 26 games to date, the Ice Dogs have scored 132 goals and allowed 73 while wracking up a league-leading 629 minutes in penalties.
Individually, Dryden has five players who have 10 goals or more — Maxime Collette leads the pack with 24 tallies followed by Tristan Takats with 16, Cameron Ware with 13, Brady Frattinger with 12 and Derek Koivisto with 10.
Looking ahead past the regular season, all seven teams in the SIJHL will make the playoffs and thus have a shot at the league title.
The SIJHL playoff format has the first-place team in the regular season standings earning a first round bye. The second place team will face the seventh place team, the third place team will meet the sixth place team and the fourth place and fifth place squads will meet in best-of-five opening round playoff series. After that, the two semi-final and the final series will all be best-of-seven affairs.
- Kam River, 45 points (22-3-1) 2. Red Lake, 34 points (16-3-2) 3. Thunder Bay, 33 points (15-7-3) 4. Dryden, 33 points (16-9-1) 5. Wisconsin, 18 points (8-18-2) 6. Thief River Falls, 11 points (5-15-1) 7. Fort Frances, 4 points (2-19-0).
Top photo: Kam River captain Zach Fortin, in a celebratory mood.