A look at the rest of SIJHL

Come Friday evening, the Superior International Junior Hockey League will be kick-starting its 11th season with a pair of games, including the home opener for the Fort Frances Lakers as they play host to the Thunder Bay North Stars.
With a new campaign set to get rolling, I figured it would be a good time to take a look and see how the other six teams in the league besides the Lakers have been faring in preparing their sides for another season.
So, without further ado, let’s get things started:
Dryden Ice Dogs
(34-20-2, 70 points (3rd place),
lost in finals to Wisconsin)
With head coach and general manager Clint Mylymok stepping down from his role after two seasons to accept a assistant coaching role with the Notre Dame Hounds in the SJHL in early August, the Ice Dogs brass were left with a short amount of time to find someone to fill that role before the season began.
It only took about a week to find the right man for the job though, as the team hired Winnipeg native Joe West to take over behind the bench, in addition to having co-general manager duties with director of hockey operations Brad Boyko.
West, who played collegiately at Northern Michigan University, spent ten seasons coaching in Germany for the Hannover Indians before returning back to Canada last year to work as a scout for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders and also help out with a AAA midget team in Manitoba.
“It’s been a quick learning process,” West said.
“I’m used to just being a head coach and now I’m getting a little bit more involved and learning how everything in the league works, so it’s been interesting for sure and it’s good thing for me as well,” West added.
While the team has lost a few players from last year’s squad, including two-time SIJHL defenceman of the year and defending MVP Jon Mitchell, there is expected to be a fairly even split of newcomers and returnees on this year’s Ice Dogs roster when they begin their season at home on Saturday night against the Wisconsin Wilderness.
“We don’t expect to be one of the top teams in the league during the first ten games of the year, I think we’re going to be right there for the last ten games,” West stressed.
Duluth Clydesdales
(11-41-4, 26 points (6th place),
lost in quarter-finals
to Dryden)
Before the season has even begun, the second-year Duluth Clydesdales franchise find themselves with a banged up member of their team.
But it isn’t a player. It’s first year head coach Chris Locker who will be a hurting unit when the Clydesdales start their season on the road Friday, Sept. 23 in Sioux Lookout.
“I was just getting off of the ice after our practice on Saturday night when one of our players asked me a question,” Locker, who was involved with the Clydesdales organization with their off-ice training last season in addition to many other hockey related activities in the Duluth area, recalled.
“I was just coasting backwards when I caught a rut, and I ended up going down and broke my ankle in two places.
“I’ll be getting some screws and a plate put in and I’ll be on crutches for our first 10 games probably, so it’s kind of a setback with some pretty bad timing, but you just have to get through it,” Locker, who was going in for surgery on his ankle yesterday, added.
Recently named the 99th best player in Minnesota high school hockey history by Minnesota Hockey Hub, Locker is quite excited about how the team will look this season, especially in the fact that the Clydesdales have recruited players from all over the United States and Canada.
?“We’re not the biggest team size wise, but we have good a mix of extremely skilled and fast players, along with a really good goalie in Matt Arnold who had D-1 potential,” Locker enthused.
“Last year for a first year franchise we had about 90 percent of our roster being local guys, and now with a full year under our belt we have had the time to really go out and recruit guys and get to see more players in person.
“We got some really good pieces and some good leadership, and I think we will be a completely different team than we were last year,” Locker added.
Iron Range Ironheads
(expansion franchise)
The biggest question mark before this season is how the expansion Iron Range Ironheads will perform when they start their season on Sept. 30, when they go on the road to face the Duluth Clydesdales.
Though the team may have gotten a late start into building their roster, Ironheads head coach and general manager Steve Chelios, the brother of former NHL defender Chris, says that the roster is coming together slowly but surely.
“It’s been extremely difficult, to be honest, just for the sake of USA hockey not certifying the American teams right away,” Chelios, who coached last season for the Southern Organ Spartans of the NORPAC league, explained.
“With having such a late startup, a lot of the kids are gone and it’s been a bit of a task at times, but we’re making our way through it and we are getting closer every day to getting our roster,” Chelios added.
As of press time, the Ironheads currently have 18 players on their roster, but Chelios already has in mind the team that he wants to field during the season.
“We are going to be a really physical team that is well disciplined and system oriented,” Chelios explained.
“It’ll come down to having everyone knowing their role and have them contribute to the whole team effort so that we can build up the proper chemistry for the type of team I normally coach,” Chelios reasoned.
Sioux Lookout Flyers
(12-38-6, 30 points (5th place), lost in quarters
to Thunder Bay)
After the team survived a near-folding in the spring, the Flyers have returned with a fresh face in charge for the 2011/12 season, with Brad Zangs taking over the role as head coach and general manager from Kurt Waltsten.
Zangs, who was most recently the head coach of the Albert Lea Thunder of the NAHL, has been working for the last few months in adding numerous new players to the squad with only five players returning from last year’s roster.
“We’re waiting on a few guys from the NAHL and a kid from British Columbia to see if they get cut from their teams and have them come in,” Zangs explained.
“I kind of went for the gusto on my defence and it looks like that they might end up making it,” Zangs added.
Though Zangs doesn’t expect his team to be a world beater when they kick-off their season at home on Friday against Wisconsin, he feels that this season will be all about building towards the future, and in particular next season.
“What this year will be is about growing the roster and learning different things about the league to learn about what we need to do to take bigger leaps and bounds for next season,” Zangs said.
“I’ve really only had about a month to work on this roster, but if you give me an entire year, it’ll be a whole different story,” Zangs stressed.
Thunder Bay North Stars
(32-21-3, 67 points
(4th place), lost in semis
to Wisconsin)
Even though the Thunder Bay North Stars are already assured a spot in the Dudley Hewitt Cup as the host of next year’s tournament, don’t expect the side to back their way into the event.
“I’ve told the guys right from the beginning that we’re not coming in through the back door and we are going for the league title,” North Stars coach and general manager Todd Howarth stressed.
“That’s not the way to be going into the tournament and we are going to try everything in our power to do it the right way,” Howarth added.
Even though Howarth could of brought back 16 players from last year’s squad, half of those eligible to return are set to be a part of the roster when the North Stars take to the ice here on Friday night against the Lakers.
“It’s not that those kids are bad players. They just didn’t fit into what we are trying to do here,” Howarth explained.
“They just didn’t quite fit our piece of the puzzle so we wanted to change that and also changed what we looked like a little bit, and that’s what we have done,” he added.
Wisconsin Wilderness
(45-6-5, 95 points (1st place), Bill Salonen Cup champion, eliminated in round-robin
of Dudley Hewitt Cup)
Following a fantastic freshman campaign in the SIJHL, the Wisconsin Wilderness will more than likely have a target on their back for their sophomore season from the rest of the teams in the league.
But if there is any pressure from that, head coach and general manager Rod Aldoff is certainly not feeling it.
“If the other teams have a target on us, that’s their deal,” Aldoff said.
“We’re just looking to write our own story and this year we’re going into every game with new faces and a new identity from the team that won last year,” Aldoff added.
With only six players at this point coming back from last year’s side, the Wilderness roster this year will have many newcomers on their bench when they take to the ice on Friday night in Sioux Lookout, but Aldoff is again taking the same approach as he did from last season with his squad.
“My goal first and foremost before any wins and losses is to play the best hockey we can and get the most out of everyone every night,” Aldoff said.
“If you can have a team that brings their skill, commitment and talent every night, everything else will just take care of itself,” he added.

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