By Gary Moskalyk
Thunder Bay. ON – Seven games grace the SIJHL schedule as teams attempt to knock off three weeks of rust, fine dining, and roasting chestnuts by an open fire.
Thunder Bay heads off to Red Lake for one and then for a pair against Dryden. Red Lake entertains the Stars and hosts Wisconsin for two. Fort Frances has a weekend pair with new head coach Tyler Miller at the helm against the Bombers.
Kam River has another week off. They’re last game was Dec. 10. Their first of 2023 will be Jan. 10. They’re ranked 11th in the CJHL’s latest poll.
Thunder Bay 11-8-3 GF 84 GA 72 @ Red Lake 12-10-4 GF 93 GA 91, Thu Jan 5
The Stars have a 2-0 edge in the series, a 4-1 victory and a 2-1 shootout win at the Gardens. Of course, that means seven more games left against the Miners in regular season.
The Stars have two losses in the streak category and are 5-4-1 in their last 10. They’ll be looking to score a few on the powerplay as that component has slipped precipitously in recent weeks.
The Stars are expecting Zack Davis to join the line-up. Davis can command a room just by showing up. He’s 6-5, 265-lb. He makes his season debut. The rugged defenceman from Winnipeg, MB tallied 13 points last season in 25 games with 56 penalty minutes. He can boom shots from the point with best of them.
Forward William Demkiw is close to being back. Mason Wesley is back, and the Stars are hoping Jamie Fuchs and RJ Dickie aren’t far behind.
Thunder Bay travels 216 km after the game for a two-game set with Dryden. The three games will get them closer to the rest of the SIJHL in games played.
Edison Weeks continues to the offence with 14 goals and 24 points. Dylan Winsor has 22 points in 22 games.
Keenan Marks may get into the “qualified goalies” column. He’s 35 minutes short.
He and Conner Lemieux provide solid puck-stopping ability.
The Stars have 32 games left in 73 days.
Red Lake is 0-1-1 against Thunder Bay, securing a point in a shootout loss way back in October.
Jacob Lamoureux has a league-leading 19 goals to pace the Miner attack. Colton Crysler has 27 points on 13 goals and 14 helpers. Aiden Corbett’s 24 points place him 12th in league scoring.
Trent Boryszczuk joins the goaltending corps. The Garden City, MI native is 5-10, 165-lb and catches right. The soon-to-be 19-year-old posted solid numbers for the 18U AAA Victory Honda squad, with a 15-2-0 record, .905 SV% and 2.18 GAA.
Jack Osmond leads the league in SV%, .930, and minutes played, 1,109. He’s 10-6-2.
The Miners have the best penalty kill in the league at 87.4%. When you factor in the six they’ve scored while shorthanded it’s even better.
The Miners take on the high scoring Lumberjacks on Friday and Saturday on their Week 14 homestand.
Thunder Bay @ Dryden 16-7-1 GF 100 GA 68, Fri/Sat Jan 6/7
Dryden has a 2-1 record against the Stars, losing 5-4 at home and winning 5-3 and 3-2 in Thunder Bay. All games were close, settled in regulation time and fairly civilized affairs.
The Ice Dogs are undefeated in five, on a 6-3-1 run in their last 10.
Bryce Benfield figures to be healthy. He leads the team is points with 26. Landen Stromme is the top sniper with 14 goals. James Hooton and Ryland Maier are back-to-back in league scoring with 20 points each. Rookie Max Roby has nine goals and 16 points in 13 games.
Jake Manners has a 2.53 GAA and .923 SV% and a league-leading 1,162 minutes between the pipes. Zac MacDonald is 5-2-0 in a back-up roll.
Dryden rocks on special teams. Their power play clicks at 21.5% efficiency. The penalty kill is at 87.1% and they have seven shorthanded markers.
They lead the SIJHL with 31.6 penalty minutes per game.
Wisconsin 8-16-3 GF 106 GA 128 @ Red Lake Fri/Sat Jan 6/7
Wisconsin has the top four scorers in the league. Ryder McMillen has 17 goals and 30 assists for 47 points in 25 games played. Zach Carson is listed as a defenceman. He considers ‘D’ to be his primary position. Carson has 16 goals–seven on the power play–and 22 assists. Captain Sal Poggiali is a point back at 37. Dillon Phillips has a 9-21-30 line, tied with Ethan Lang of Kam River.
Defenceman Dylan Jouppi has a goal but 21 assists to rank 16th in scoring.
The Lumberjacks’ games feature 8.67 total goals per game. The power play is at 16.8%, PK at 80.8%. They’re are least penalized teams at 16.4 minutes per game.
Kyler Lowden’s 6-7-2, 4.35 GAA and 910 minutes lead the team.
Wisconsin recorded a pair of wins against the Miners to open the season. They’ve lost four in a row head-to-head since, including a 9-8 OT loss in Red Lake on Nov. 12th. They play Red Lake again on January 15th to close out the season series.
Fort Frances 5-19-0 GF 53 GA 137 @ Sioux Lookout 15-11-0 GF 101 GA 78 Fri/Sat Jan 6/7
Former assistant coach Tyler Miller makes his Laker head coaching debut on the road against Sioux Lookout. He’s also GM. The Lakers are in tough this year, but have 30 regular season games left to resurrect their season. All teams make the playoffs.
They’ll be blessed with a 23-man roster going into the second half, something they didn’t have until recently.
Fort Frances lost to the Bombers 4-1 on Oct. 21. They have eight games left against each other.
Miller was born in Fort Frances in 1988. The 34-year-old played for the Port Hope Predators, Thunder Bay Bearcats of the SIJHL in 2008-09, and attended the College of St. Scholastica for four years.
His best season, was the 08-09 campaign that he split between Port Hope and Thunder Bay. He had 113 points in 56 games–over two per game–with 89 penalty minutes.
As an assistant coach he had a front row seat.
Brandon Bodnar goes from assistant coach to being an assistant coach with more responsibilities. The 25-year-old is a Fort Frances native and former Laker netminder with sterling credentials between the pipes. The pair hope to form a new team identity with the leagues youngest squad (18.48 years according to Elite Prospects).
Sioux Lookout Carson Johnstone’s crew is 5-5-0 in their last 10, with a 2-1 OT win over powerhouse Dryden on Dec. 17 to savour over the holidays.
Blake Burke, Ty Bahm, Owen Riffel and Connor Burke are all in the top-20 in scoring. Lucas Trimarchi has been out with injury since Nov. 26. Tegan Neuman’s been out since Nov. 12. Johnstone is expecting them back by mid-January.
Jake Manners is the minutes played leader among SIJHL goalies. His 12-8-0 record, 2.53 GAA and .923 SV% places him among the leaders in those numbers as well.
Ethan Penner is the new back-up goalie. Penner was 6-1-0 with the St. Vitale Jr. Victorias of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League in 2022-23. The Mitchell, MB native was acquired at the beginning of December. He’s 1-1 in his two starts with a .915 SV%.
Trail, BC natives Nathan Dann and Mitchell Daines are new players. Daines’ first game was against Dryden on Dec. 3. Dann had a four-goal game against Wisconsin on Dec. 10. Both are expected to be key cogs moving forward.