The Kam River Fighting Walleye have hooked their way to their first national championship.
But it almost didn’t happen.
The Fighting Walleye, based in Oliver Paipoonge, Ont., finished the regular season with an impressive record of 40-11-1-1 record, good enough to secure the top spot in the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL).
Backstopping the Walleye all year-long was Eric Vanska, who recorded a league-leading 27 wins and left opposing teams frustrated and struggling to find the back of the net. Offensively, the Walleye were led by Jeremy Dunmore, Ethan Lang and Jack Cook, all of whom finished the year with 50 or more points, while 17-year-old defenceman Max Leduc put 18 goals and 27 assists in his rookie year.
“Max Leduc, he scored some really big goals for us and he is a special player to watch,” says Fighting
Walleye co-owner and general manager, Kevin McCallum.
Since Kam River finished first, that meant they skipped the SIJHL quarterfinals and headed straight to the semis, where it downed the Wisconsin Lumberjacks in five games — reaching double-digits in Games 1 and 3. It then faced the Thunder Bay North Stars for the Bill Salonen Cup.
“That was a tough series,” says McCallum.
Tough indeed. After the first two games, one of which was a 5-4 overtime loss, the Walleye found themselves down 2-0 in the series and having to play the next two on the road.
“After Game 2, I had a meeting with the guys, and I told them ‘We’re going to get the next two games [on the road] and we will not lose another game at home,’” recalls McCallum.
And that’s exactly what happened. Kam River took down Thunder Bay 5-2 in Game 3 and then evened the series thanks to Euan Morrison’s double-overtime winner in Game 4. The Fighting Walleye then took Game 5 but lost Game 6, setting up a memorable seventh game in front of their home fans.
“Game 6, I had that hunch that it wasn’t going to be our night but then coming into Game 7, well, I’ve been around junior hockey for a long time, and something told me we were going to win it,” says McCallum.
Win they did. Kam River sank Thunder Bay 5-4 in an absolute thriller to capture its first-ever SIJHL championship.
“Being able to hoist the trophy in front of our crowd, that was exciting,” says McCallum.
HOW THEY GOT TO PORTAGE
Superior International Junior Hockey League
Semifinal: defeated Wisconsin 4-1 (10-2, 4-2, 10-2, 2-3 OT, 4-1)
NOJHL championship: defeated Thunder Bay 4-3 (3-4, 2-3 OT, 5-2, 6-5 2OT, 4-3, 2-6, 5-4)
Record (W-L-OTL-SOL): 4011-1-1 (1st in SIJHL)
Goals for: 225 (2nd in SIJHL)
Goals against: 143 (1st in SIJHL)
Power play: 47 of 225 (20.9% –2nd in SIJHL)
Penalty killing: 229 of 266 (86.1% – 2nd in SIJHL)
Longest winning streak: 10 (Jan. 27-Feb. 18)
Top 3 scorers:
• Jeremy Dunmore – 19G 38A 58P (T-2nd in SIJHL)
• Ethan Lang – 18G 36A 54P (T-4th in SIJHL)
• Jack Cook – 21G 29A 50P (T-6th in SIJHL)
Goals for: 57
Goals against: 37
Power play: 13 for 40 (32.5%)
Penalty killing: 40 of 53 (75.5%)
Top 3 scorers:
• Jack Cook – 11G 8A 19P
• Jeremy Dunmore – 6G 10A 16P
• Max Leduc – 7G 7A 14P
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS
Sept. 26 – 17th
Oct. 9 – 18th
Oct. 16 – 16th
Oct. 24 – 19th
Oct. 31 – Not ranked
Nov. 7 – 14th
Nov. 14 – 14th
Nov. 21 – 13th
Nov. 28 – 13th
Dec. 5 – 13th
Dec. 12 – 11th
Dec. 19 – 11th
Jan. 9 – 12th
Jan. 16 – 14th
Jan. 23 – 17th
Jan. 30 – 14th
Feb. 6 – 16th
Feb. 13 – 13th
Feb. 20 – 14th
Feb. 27 – 17th
March 6 – 18th