The Red Lake Miners are right back where they were 12 months ago: In the thick of a title hunt in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
However, the route to get back to this point was not as open-shut.
Red Lake entered the season with just five returning regulars and a new head coach, Geoff Walker.
But after another split against the defending champion and league-leading Thunder Bay North Stars, Red Lake is 19-10-4 — five points back of the North Stars with a game in hand.
“Definitely not a rebuild season,” Miners goaltender Zach Willms said after he made 43 saves in a 4-1 win over the North Stars on Saturday at Fort William Gardens. “We’re here to win a championship this season.”
The Miners went through a summer of change after reaching the SIJHL final and losing to these North Stars last March. Reigning coach of the year Derek Sweet-Coulter, the only bench boss and GM the franchise had known since its inception in 2013, stepped down last April to coach in the British Columbia Hockey League. In June, the Miners sent SIJHL MVP and 60-goal scorer Bryce Young to the Aurora Tigers.
Walker knew there were pieces still in place and built around veterans Willms, Ethan Stuckless, Morgan Venne, Spencer Milne and Shaye Sommerfeld. Newcomer Ryan Howe is the team’s leading scorer (fourth in the SIJHL) with 37 points in 33 games.
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