SIJHL Playoff Preview #1 Kam River vs #8 Kenora

By Gary Moskalyk 

Kenora 2-46-1 5 pts .051 8th GF 89 GA 344 -255 PIMs 1,247 PP% 9.4 PK% 67.7 at Kam River 39-9-1 79 pts .806 1st GF 269 GA 130 +139 PIMs 1,003 PP% 27.7 PK% 82.1  

Head to head: KEN 0-7-0 KRW 7-0-0

First-year Kenora heads into this series on an 18-game losing streak, facing a team riding a 15-game winning streak. The Walleye have lost two games at home all season long. 

Leading the way for the Islanders is captain Aaron Bertschinger. The SIJHL veteran is in his third season having played with the Thief River Falls Norskies in 2021-22 and Red Lake in 2022-23. He had a breakout season with Kenora this season leading the team in goals with 14, assists with 20, and points with 34. He hasn’t played since March 2nd.

Brayden Mackay has 27 points with 11 goals. Jean Paul Scaringi, back from injury after missing a month, has 24 points in 34 games. Braden Swampy, one of three Islanders over a century in penalty minutes (111), recorded more goals than assists from his defence position with an 11G/10A split. Jayden McPherson-Nepinak had 15 points in 43 games with 101 penalty minutes and Reid Zurkan, despite netting the game winner in the franchise’s first game way back in September in a shoot-out win over Wisconsin, had 13 assists and no goals on the year. The Kenora native led the SIJHL with 136 penalty minutes. 

The Islanders led the SIJHL in penalty minutes with 1,247. They had three of the nine players tabbed with 100-plus PIMs during the regular season.

Matthew Stephens was the goalie of decision in Kenora’s two wins and one shoot-out loss. His most memorable game was a 3-1 win over Thunder Bay 19 games ago, when he stopped 57 of 58 shots. Stephens finished the regular season with an impressive .898 save percentage on a team that allows over 60 shots a game.

Kaden King and Connor Dunham-Fox will likely see time in net as well.

The Fighting Walleye were 7-0-0 against the Islanders and enter the series as massive favourites in the best-of-seven quarterfinals. In a scheduling quirk, the Walleye met the Islanders five times in March, outscoring them 54-6.

“We’ve seen a lot of them in the last month,” said Walleye head coach Jesse Messier. “You can’t take anybody lightly in playoffs. It’s a reset. Our guys, especially over the last handful of games we played them, we stayed committed to what we had to do and not cheat in the game no matter what the score was.” 

The Walleye built an .806 winning percentage, finally ending five points clear of Sioux Lookout in the year-long battle for first place.

The Walleye finished in first with 39 wins, ending the 49-game regular season with just nine losses, a goals for/goals against ratio better than 2:1, a league-leading 269 goals for (130 against), and the best powerplay (27.7%). They had 14 players in the top-60 led by Jett Mintenko’s 64 points on 22 goals and 42 assists. Rookie Nickolas Fagnilli (23G 30A), Ryan Doucette (22G 28A), Kaden Goodwin (21G 26A), rookie Carter Poddubny (21G 25A) and Jeremy Dunmore (24G 21A) joined Mintenko in the top-20. Brydon Bell’s 42 points led the Walleye d-corps. 

In net, Ashton Sadauskas led the league with 28 wins, with just three losses, and 1,863 minutes. Thunder Bay’s Travis VanderZwaag posted an 11-6-1 record in his rookie season. 

Kam River has multiple players out with injuries. Daxton Lang was a player who returned mid-season after nearly two months recuperating from his. 

“Every line can produce on any given night,” said Messier. “With the injuries we have it’s next man up. The next guy up is chomping at the bit to be the guy. I’m just excited to get going in the playoffs for sure. I know the guys in the room are. Fun part of the season now.”