Emo’s Orchard reflects on championship season with Kam River Fighting Walleye

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

The Kam River Fighting Walleye finally had a chance to celebrate their SIJHL championship last Thursday. Goaltender Jack Orchard took a few minutes to reflect on the season with the Times

The team, based out of OIiver Paipoonge near Thunder Bay, beat the Thunder Bay Northstars in seven games for the Bill Salonen Cup Championship.

One Rainy River District product was part of the team. Jack Orchard got into 19 games as the backup goaltender for the Fighting Walleye this season posting a 11-5 win/loss record with a 2.34 goals-against average and a 0.909 save percentage and four shutouts.

Orchard said the team felt really good about their performance throughout the season despite all of the changes the team went through.

“The group we had at the beginning is quite a bit different than what we had at the end but that’s all part of it,” Orchard said. “As a group we had a lot of ups and downs, especially going through a coaching change halfway through the season, so that was pretty tough, but it created a lot of character.

In November, Kam River fired head coach Matt Valley, who had coached the team an 11-4-1 record to that point in the season. The team said they wanted a coach who could take on more responsibilities. Valley was replaced by former Red Lake Miners coach Geoff Walker less than two weeks later.

Orchard says the experience helped the team grow in the dressing room.

“That was pretty tough,” Orchard said. “But it created a lot of character. The [dressing] room was awesome, everybody was just close and it made it so much more fun. The way we battled through adversity and ups and downs was good.”

While they topped the SIJHL, the Fighting Walleye had a tough time at the Centennial Cup. The national Junior A championship was held in Portage La Prairie, MB, from May 11-21. Kam River went 0-4 and failed to advance out of the preliminary round. But Orchard says the experience was one to remember.

Local goaltender Jack Orchard played for the championship Kam River Fighting Walleye this season. He plans to stay in the line-up next season.

“Being at the Centennial Cup was surreal,” Orchard said. “It didn’t feel real, for me anyway… We all knew the teams were going to be extremely good, and we knew we had a big challenge coming up ahead of us and there were going to be lots of people watching us too. We tried to go into every game and do the best we possibly could, never quit and work as hard as we possibly could.”

Orchard got into one of the four preliminary round games when starting goalie Eric Vanska was pulled after giving up six goals on 20 shots to the Portage Terriers. In 34 minutes of action, Orchard stopped 20 of 26 shots he faced.

The Centennial Cup wrapped up last Sunday with the Brooks Bandits taking their third consecutive Canadian Junior A championship, beating the Battlefords North Stars 4-0.

Orchard is planning to remain with the Fighting Walleye for next season and hopes to continue playing hockey after his final year in the SIJHL, with hopes of going on to play college hockey somewhere. He says he really enjoys the community that the team is based in.

“Most of the guys live in Thunder Bay but then you drive out to Oliver Paipoonge and it’s like a whole other hockey community,” Orchard said. “It’s kind of cool.”

Orchard also said he really enjoyed the opportunity to come back to Fort Frances and play in front of friends and family.

“I always enjoy coming back to play in Fort Frances,” Orchard said. “I was able to get some family and friends out there to support me so that was always cool. I thought it was fun playing in Fort Frances because it’s where I grew up and I know some people on the team too…so it was always fun when I played against them.”