It is set to begin a new season of play with eight teams. Which is the most that the Superior International Jr. Hockey League has had since its 2001 inception. Meantime, following are the Hockey News North rankings ahead of the 2023-2024 regular season which is slated to begin this week.
As with any junior A hockey league where the annual turnover of players is relative to a proverbial revolving door, putting together a pre-season ranking is proportional to a roll of the dice. Nonetheless, here we go.
- Kam River Fighting Walleye. Kam River has only been a part of the SIJHL for two full seasons. And during that time the Fighting Walleye has been to the league finals twice — and with two different head coaches. As the reigning champions of the SIJHL and with Kevin McCallum being without peer as a general manager, the Fighting Walleye will try to replicate its success in ’23-24 — and with yet another new head coach in Jesse Messier, who has a good background as an assistant coach with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.
- Dryden Ice Dogs. This will mark the 10th season for Kurt Walsten as the head coach and general manager in Dryden. Not only has the hard-boiled, hard-driven Walsten led the Ice Dogs to a pair of league championships, he positions them as an annual contender. No need to worry about the Ice Dogs.
- Sioux Lookout Bombers. Head coach and GM Carson Johnstone led Sioux Lookout to a 29-20-3 record as an expansion team in 2022-2023 and he has the contacts to be able to keep the Bombers aggressive and ambitious again in ’23-24.
- Thunder Bay North Stars. Rumour has it that SIJHL commissioner Darrin Nicholas likes to hang out with North Stars management at home games. But that is okay, right? Besides, gossip, scuttlebutt and tittle-tattle are always fun, right? (Insert wink.) At any rate, the North Stars are a big market team and as the head coach, Rob DeGagne has his own history of accomplishment and achievement as a bench boss in the SIJHL.
- Wisconsin Lumberjacks. Owner, general manager and head coach Doug Lein always seems to come up with a scrappy team that plays at or beyond its ability.
- Red Lake Miners. Not a fan in the least bit of how ownership treated Kevin Walker in his one and only season on the job as head coach and GM in Red Lake. At any rate, Walker is now in the Northern. Ontario Jr. Hockey League as the head coach of the new Iroquois Falls Storm and has his team off to a 3-0 start to the season with three straight overtime victories.
- Fort Frances Lakers. It has been one open-to-doubt coaching hire after another over the past few seasons up in the Fort. Maybe it will be better this time around?
- Kenora Islanders. As the newest members of the SIJHL and faced with having to play its home games in different locales, let us just be safe and not expect an SIJHL miracle on ice in Kenora.