Better days ahead? COVID-19 limited the expansion Kam River Fighting Walleye of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League to just four regular season games in 2020-2021.
Now, preparatory to the 2021-2022 regular season is a four team tournament that the veteran-laden Fighting Walleye will play host to.
To be sure, veteran player commitments have the Fighting Walleye in fresh waters with the upcoming season on the horizon.
Among those who are lined up to skate on the Kam River for the upcoming season are multiple junior hockey veterans.
Among the confirmed returnees to Kam River are goalie Eric Vanska, defensemen Collin Wiseman, Trystan Goodman and Brad Fortier and forwards Mackenzie Sedgwick, Keaton Mercredi, Tyler Ralph, Christian Veneruzzo, Ethan Lang, Trenton Morriseau, Carson Gorst, Alex Enegren and Calvin Morrow.
Newcomers include seasoned junior hockey veterans acquired via summer trades with teams from other leagues, namely defenseman Zachary Fortin and forwards Brendan Murray and Elliot Parker.
Fortin was obtained from the Timmins Rock of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Besides having played two seasons in Timmins, Fortin has experience of 68 games with Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.
Meanwhile, Murray was picked up by Kam River from the Yarmouth Mariners of the Maritime Hockey League. Parker also came from the Maritimes, specifically the Campbellton Tigers. And Sedgwick has prior experience with the Rayside Balfour Canadians of the NOJHL.
Of note, Vanska, Fortier, Sedgwick, Veneruzzo, Morriseau and Fortin are all Thunder Bay products.
To be sure, the outlook for the coming season is a seemingly positive one with the Fighting Walleye primed for a good run in 2021-2022 after posting a record of 3-1-0 during the abbreviated 2020-2021 regular season schedule.
“With our trades and players who have committed we believe we will be competitive in the league and push for a deep run. With the Dudley Hewitt Cup being hosted in our league it would be amazing to be able to attend,” Fighting Walleye general manager Kevin McCallum said of the annual year end, Central Canada championship tournament that includes a host entry as well as champs from the SIJHL, the NOJHL and the Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
Meanwhile, the seven member teams of the SIJHL — Kam River, the Dryden Ice Dogs, Fort Frances Lakers, Red Lake Miners, Thunder Bay North Stars, Thief River Falls Norskies and Wisconsin Lumberjacks — will each play 48 regular season games in 2021-2022. The upcoming season will signify the SIJHL’s 20th anniversary.
As part of a balanced schedule, all teams will play one another eight times — four at home and four away.
The regular season slate will begin on September 17 with a planned wrap up on March 26. Playoffs are scheduled to start on April 1.
Looking ahead, the Sioux Lookout Bombers are poised to join the SIJHL as an expansion team for the 2022-2023 season.
Kam River will play host to the 2021 Teleco Cup, a pre-season event that is slated for September 10-12 at Thunder Bay’s NorWest Arena.
Four teams will take part in the round-robin tournament, which will conclude with final games on the third day.
“We are very grateful to have Teleco as the presenting sponsor,” relayed Kam River president Derek Geddes. “Their support has gone a long way in helping us put on this first class event.”
The Fighting Walleye will be joined by SIJHL counterparts Fort Frances Lakers and Wisconsin Lumberjacks as well as the LJHL Selects, a team comprised of the top players from the Lakehead Jr. B Hockey League.
“We are excited to see our league rivals from Fort Frances and Wisconsin join us and get ready for the season and having the LJHL Selects is an opportunity for all SIJHL teams involved to find potential players and affiliates, which goes a long way for all our clubs, and to showcase their product,” noted Fighting Walleye general manager Kevin McCallum.
“We had the opportunity to have NOJHL and Manitoba junior teams involved this season but with the uncertainty of the pandemic, we kept it to our branch,” McCallum added.
See below for the full schedule of games.