SIJHL season set to start this weekend

If you are looking for a piece about how the current NHL lockout will soon lead to a massive decay in Canadian Culture and will alienate the youth of today from our “national sport,” you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Firstly, our national sport is still lacrosse the last time I checked, and secondly, there are actual hockey games taking place this week.
All three of the major junior hockey leagues (the OHL, QMJHL and WHL) will open up their regular seasons tonight, while closer to home, the SIJHL will begin it’s season on Friday night.
Although the Fort Frances Lakers won’t begin their season until next Wednesday night, all six other teams will be getting underway on Friday, so I figured it would be a good time to take a quick look at how the rest of the league is looking heading into the start of the 2012/13 season.
So, without any further delay, let’s get things started:
Dryden Ice Dogs (25-24-7, 57 points (4th place), lost in semi-finals to Fort Frances)
For the second straight year, the Ice Dogs have made a change behind their bench, with Paul MacLean taking over from the departing Joe West.
MacLean, who is from Oakville and is the owner of the Central Ontario Junior A Development Camp, is coming into a strong situation in Dryden this season as a number of players are returning from last year’s squad, including 60-point forward Jesse Linner.
Along with the veteran players, the Ice Dogs have also brought in a few new faces, including defender Patrick Murphy (who briefly played with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires during their Memorial Cup run in 2010), which should add some veteran prescience on the back-end.
Duluth Clydesdales (20-33-3, 43 points (6th place), lost in quarter-finals to Thunder Bay)
Like Dryden, Duluth will also have a brand new head coach joining their ranks this season, as the organization has brought in Aaron Haupert to run things behind the bench.
Although he’s new to the SIJHL, Haupert has a wealth of experience in the collegiate ranks as he spent 10 years working as an assistant coach with men’s junior varsity and women’s junior varsity at Saint Mary’s University before becoming an assistant with the St. Scholastica Saints last year.
The team has made a few signings heading into the new season, with one of the most notable being blue-liner AJ Merritt, who spent a season and half with the Sioux Lookout Flyers before joining the Sudbury Cubs of the NOJHL partway through last year.
Minnesota Iron Rangers (9-45-2, 20 points (7th place), lost in ‘survivor series’ to Duluth)
After a rough expansion year, the Iron Range Ironheads changed not only their name but their location, as the new-look Iron Rangers will play out of Hoyt Lakers after making their home in Chisholm last season.
Although not a whole lot is known about the make-up of the Iron Rangers, who have brought in former Madison Capitols bench boss Chris Walby to serve as their head man, the team was looking to renew the services of forwards Billy Foy and Spencer Peratalo earlier this summer, in addition to having more players coming from the Iron Range.
Minnesota WIlderness (49-6-1, 99 points (1st place), Bill Salonen Cup champions, eliminated in round-robin of Dudley Hewitt Cup)
After winning two straight titles as the Wisconsin Wilderness, the reigning SIJHL champions moved from Spooner, Wi. to Cloquet, Mn. over the summer, as a result of the potential sale and closure of the Northwest Sports Complex in Spooner.
Heading into their pre-season series with the Fort Frances Lakers this past weekend, only eight members from last year’s title winning squad had returned to the Wilderness, although that is slight improvement from the six players that were retained from the 2010/11 winners.
One of the key players that returns for the Wilderness will be forward Jordan Shockley, who was acquired from the Duluth Clydesdales at the trade deadline last season and was a key part in their success.
Sioux Lookout Flyers (25-29-2, 52 points (5th place), lost to Dryden in semi-finals)
With head coach and general manager Brad Zangs leaving the team after just one season, there is a new man in charge in Sioux Lookout with Derek Levanen taking over both roles.
Levanen’s name may be a familiar one for those who have followed the league for a long time, as he coached previously a few years ago with the now defunct Thunder Bay Bulldogs.
This year might be another tough go for the Flyers however, as they will be losing two of the top scorers in the SIJHL last season, as both Chris Hoffman and Anthony Wolfe have graduated and are now playing at Hamline University in St. Paul.
Thunder Bay North Stars (31-19-6, 68 points (3rd place), lost in semi-finals to Wisconsin, eliminated in semi-finals of Dudley Hewitt Cup)
The biggest mystery of the entire off-season has been who will actually be behind the bench for the North Stars when they start the campaign.
While the team is currently being led by the well-travelled Doug Colbon, the North Stars’ new owner Doug Gunsinger has stated the new bench boss will be officially unveiled at their home opener on Sept. 25.
Although previous rumours had seen last year’s interim head coach Lonny Bohonis, long-time bench boss Todd Howarth, and former North Bay Trappers coach and general manager Ian Swalucynski all linked with the job, all that Gunsinger will say is that the new head-man will be coming from outside of the Lakehead.