Islanders navigating rocky first season

By Kevin Jeffrey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THUNDER BAY – Getting an expansion franchise off the ground, no matter what the sport, is not an easy task.

Building a team on and off the ice has its good days and its bad days.

The Kenora Devil’s Gap Islanders left Norwest Arena late Sunday night with their 14th straight loss, scoring just a pair of goals in the three games against the Kam River Fighting Walleye.

“We just have to find a way to push forward,” said assistant captain Reid Zurkan following the 12-1 loss on March 2. “Every game has been tough for the boys. We need to stay tight as a group and find a way out of this.”

Zurkan previously played in the Kenora Thistles program between 2019 and 2022, even suiting up in eight games with the Fort Frances Lakers during the 2021-2022 campaign.

Zurkan noted that it has been a unique experience playing in his hometown for the expansion Islanders.

“Everything is fresh. None of the boys have ever really done this before, so it’s a different group but this has been a pretty sweet opportunity.

“The city is good and we get good fan support out to watch our games, despite the scores.”

The Islanders roster also features defenceman Branden Boress from Red Rock, who is also a former member of the Lakers.

“A lot of kids played minor hockey in Red Rock when I was younger, but there’s no more minor hockey there,” Boress said.

“Now the kids are going to Nipigon to play because, I believe, Red Rock keeps downsizing and it’s tough to run a team or minor hockey there.”

The township recorded a population of 895 in the 2021 Census, which was unchanged from the population figures from 2016.

The Islanders have four games left in their regular season against the Fighting Walleye and the Sioux Lookout Bombers.

They will skate with the regular season champions in the best-of-seven Superior International Junior Hockey League quarterfinals.