SIJHL season edging closer and closer

After what had been a nearly dead month or so, off-season activity in the SIJHL began to pick up steam in the last couple of weeks, especially with the release of the league schedule for the coming season last Friday.
When we last looked at the off-season happenings back in June, the Iron Range Ironheads had changed their name to the Minnesota Iron Rangers while the Dryden Ice Dogs and Sioux Lookout Flyers had brought new faces behind the bench in hiring Paul MacLean and Derek Levanen, respectively.
Since then, though, there’s been a number of events involving each of the seven teams in the league as they prepare for the start of the 2012/13 campaign on Friday, Sept. 21.
The biggest shake-up of them all occurred with the winners of the last two Bill Salonen Cups, as the Wisconsin Wilderness relocated from Spooner to Cloquet, Mn., changing their name to the Minnesota Wilderness in the process.
The move to Cloquet was precipitated by recent news that the rink in Spooner, the Northwest Sports Complex, either would be sold to a new owner or closed up, leaving the team no choice but to look for a new place to call home.
While the location and team name might be different, things behind the bench will stay the same as Rod Aldoff remains the team’s head coach and general manager as the organization looks for a third-straight SIJHL crown.
Another big change took place over the last couple of weeks on the ownership front as one of the SIJHL’s original franchises, the Thunder Bay North Stars, now are owned by Doug Gunsinger.
Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, there had been some questions prior to the change in ownership with the North Stars, including rumours that the franchise might not even play in the league at all this winter.
At this point, there’s no word yet if former NHL’er Lonny Bohonos, who took over the head coaching job from long-time bench boss Todd Howarth late last season, will return behind the bench, or if the club will go in a different direction.
Meanwhile, two more head coaching openings were filled over the last couple of weeks. The Minnesota Iron Rangers and Duluth Clydesdales both chose the men they feel will lead their teams to the promised land.
The Iron Rangers, who did not renew the services of previous head coach and general manager Steve Chelios, have brought in Chris Walby to serve as the club’s new head man as they get ready to play out of Hoyt Lakes and Hibbing this season.
Walby, who coached the Madison Capitols ‘AAA’ Major Midget program for the last three season, previously coached at Middleton High School for nine seasons, where he helped the school earn three trips to the state championship.
As for the Clydesdales, the third-year SIJHL franchise recently announced the hiring of Duluth native Aaron Haupert as their head coach, replacing the departing Chris Locker.
Having spent 10 seasons working as an assistant coach with men’s junior varsity and women’s varsity teams at Saint Mary’s University, Haupert returned to his hometown of Duluth in 2010 to serve as assistant with the Duluth Denfield high school team before becoming an assistant with the St. Scholastica Saints last year.
In the player signing department, meanwhile, the Fort Frances Lakers have led the way in that front by inking 12 players to date. But the Ice Dogs also have been hard at work during the off-season.
In addition to bringing back six players from last year’s semi-final squad, including 60-point forward Jesse Linner, Dryden also signed two new faces that have earned championships elsewhere.
Joining the club will be 20-year-old blueliner Patrick Murphy, who won a Sutherland Cup with the LaSalle Vipers of the GOJHL in 2010 and also played briefly with the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires during that campaign, and 18-year-old forward Rory Court, who won the Telus Cup national Midget title with the Winnipeg Thrashers in 2011.
There still are many questions to be answered around the SIJHL as to who will be playing where when the season begins, but you can expect that fog to be lifted over the coming weeks.