Wingers Braeden Duchesne and Jeremy Dunmore have lots of experience heading into their final season of junior hockey eligibility.
The pair of 2003 born Thunder Bay skaters will be leaned upon heavily for the Kam River Fighting Walleye, who are on a quest to once again become Bill Salonen Cup Champions.
This will be the fourth season for Dunmore in the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) as he was a member of the Thunder Bay Kings Under-18 AAA squad that played four games during the 2020-2021 Guest Season. Dunmore picked up two goals and five points.
The Thunder Bay North Stars tried to recruit Dunmore, who had his choice of teams to play for. He loves the atmosphere and the culture that encompasses the Fighting Walleye.
“No matter what coach comes in, or [which] guys we pick up, as long as you keep the culture going [that’s all that matters]. It’s a great organization. We get treated the best I’ve ever seen before, and it’s just honestly an honour to play for this team,” he said.
Dunmore remembers his first game in a Fighting Walleye uniform on Oct. 8, 2021, against the Red Lake Miners.
“I got traded [to the Walleye] and I think I played the next day in Red Lake, in an away game,” Dunmore recalled. “[All I heard was] we are going to be a great team, and we were [going to] dominate [the league]; We ended going [to Red Lake] and we got too cocky. We lost the game 3-2, so it definitely was not a dream start. I had a good game, [but] everyone realized that we are a beatable and [that] just pushed us harder.”
Duchesne split time between the Fighting Walleye and the Thunder Bay Bandits of the Lakehead Junior Hockey League (LJHL) during the 2021-2022 season.
Like Dunmore, Duchesne also pulled on the Fighting Walleye jersey for the first time at the Cochenour Arena in Red Lake during the Thanksgiving Weekend.
The Walleye will have their third Head Coach within a twelve-month span, after Matt Valley was dismissed early last season and Geoff Walker resigned in July to take control of the Drayton Valley Thunder in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
Duchesne remembers, “Last year we went through the coaching change midway through the season, but our leadership group and our organization helped us get through that, and it was pretty a seamless change. [Jesse Messier] has experience playing high level hockey and coaching high level hockey, and he’s very professional, so he’s going to be awesome for the rest of this year.”
While the Fighting Walleye will have a number of returnees this year, it’s the new guys that have the attention of Dunmore and Duchesne.
Jeremy Dunmore has high expectations for forward Jett Mintenko, who was picked up from the Hearst Lumberjacks of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) in the offseason.
Braeden Duchesne has been impressed with the performance of 2007 born forward Carter Poddubny, noting “Being two years [early] to play junior [hockey], it’s pretty unreal how he can compete with all of us. He is going to be a great player for us this year.”
The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) claimed the Teleco Cup for a second consecutive year.
The Hearst Lumberjacks clinched the title on Sunday afternoon at Norwest Arena with a 5-2 win over the Fighting Walleye in Game Three, outscoring them 10-4 in the best-of-three series.
Last year, the Soo Eagles won two of three games against the Fighting Walleye.
The inaugural event in November and December 2020 saw the North Stars win the eight-game series over the Fighting Walleye with five victories.
In 2021, the Fighting Walleye went undefeated against the Lakehead Junior Hockey League (LJHL) selects.
The Fighting Walleye continue pre-season play on Wednesday and Thursday of this week against the Neepawa Titans and Niverville Nighthawks of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL).
They will then engage in a home and home series with the Thunder Bay North Stars on Sept. 15th at Norwest Arena and Sept. 16th at a location yet to be announced.
The SIJHL slate consists of 196 regular season games, as the Fighting Walleye play their home opener on Sept. 22nd against the Red Lake Miners.