Playoff season in the Superior International Jr. Hockey League is still several weeks away. But having played six successive games that have been decided by one goal, the league leading Kam River Fighting Walleye is already in a playoff-like mode.
In a span of two weeks — February 12 to 26 — Kam River played three games on the road and three at home and all of them resulted in one goal decisions.
After the Fighting Walleye was hard pressed to eke out a 3-2 road decision against the fifth place Wisconsin Lumberjacks came three games in a row versus the third place Dryden Ice Dogs. Kam River won 4-3 and 3-2 (in a shootout) over Dryden before dropping a 4-3 decision to the Ice Dogs.
Then came a recent weekend series with the second place Red Lake Miners. Playing at home, Kam River withstood a late Red Lake rally to post a 5-4 victory in Game 1. Then, in Game 2, the Fighting Walleye took a 3-0 lead before having to overcome a 5-4 deficit to tie the score at 5-5 and force overtime. Red Lake, though, scored the OT winner for the 6-5 victory.
Through the six straight one-goal decisions, Kam River took nine of a possible 12 points with a 4-1-1 record to maintain the SIJHL’s best winning percentage.
Thus, Kam River takes an .853 winning percentage from a record of 28-4-2 into this week’s SIJHL Showcase Tournament that is being held in Spooner, Wisconsin. Red Lake is close behind in second spot with a 23-4-2 record and .828 winning percentage.
All six SIJHL teams will play two games apiece at the Showcase and the results will count in the regular season standings.
As for the recent two game showdown with Red Lake that produced three of a possible four points for Kam River, both Fighting Walleye general manager Kevin McCallum and Miners GM/coach Geoff Walker told Hockey News North that they each took a lot away from the two playoff-style games.
“Both teams battled hard,” said McCallum. “We knew coming in they have a tonne of fire power and are well coached by Geoff Walker. They had a couple bounces go their way in the second game and pulled one out. We had a few of our weapons out (forwards Holden Woodcroft and Dayton Clarke and goalie Eric Vanska) but give credit to Red Lake.
“We look forward to our battles with Red Lake … they have four or five guys that can hurt you when given time and space. Looking ahead, we will need to find some killer instinct when we have teams trailing us and be able to finish a full 60 minutes,” added McCallum.
Meanwhile, Walker noted that he thought “it was a great weekend of SIJHL hockey. We didn’t love our game the first night … I thought we had too many passengers. But after going down 3-0 in the second game and coming all the way back to win in overtime, I can’t be more proud of the way our guys competed and got that job done. We see (Kam River) three more times (before the end of the regular season.) It’s gonna be fun!”
BIG FISH: Alex Enegren leads the Fighting Walleye scoring chart with 18 goals, 24 assists, 42 points. Up next are Ethan Lang (16-23-39), Trenton Morriseau (17-21-38), Carson Gorst (10-24-34), Jeremy Dunmore (14-19-33) and defenseman Zach Fortin (8-24-32.) Meantime, newcomer Holden Woodcroft has five goals, six assists, 11 points in six games and fellow settler Dayton Clarke has 3-3-6 totals in four outings.
FISH NET: Eric Vanska has a 9-2-1 record with a .934 save percentage and 2.15 goals against average while Austin Madge has an 18-2-1 record with a .930 save percentage and 2.44 goals against average for the Fighting Walleye.
Red Lake forward Jordan Baranesky tries to halt Kam River forward Alex Enegren. (photo by Leith Dunick.)