Dryden GM Ice Dogs 2023-24 Season Preview

By Gary Moskalyk

Record: 37-15-1 PTS 76 .704% 2nd GF 229 GA 149 +80 PP 26.7% PK 86.9% Playoff Result: 2nd Round Exit

Key Players Lost 2002: F Brady Frattinger 28-23-51 139 PIMs, F Ben Hackl 13-28-41, F Jordan Pfoh 17-18-35, F Tyler Earl 7-15-22, D Max Rath 2-11-13 150 PIMs,  F Derek Koivisto 5-6-11, G Eric Clark 22-12-1 2.78 .913, G Zac MacDonald 14-3-0 2.77 .896.

Returning Players: F Max Roby 18-15-33 31 games, F Kaden Bandura, D Sebastiano Biagi, F Ryland Maier, F McLaren Paulsen, F Bryce Benfield 20-28-48, McKale Paul.

Notable Departures: F Landen Stromme 24-27-51 90 PIMs, F James Hooton 28-19-47, D Easton Debray 9-23-32. 

Goalies: Ewan Soutar 7-3-0 2.36 .927 Grand Forks Border Bruins (KIJHL), Braxton Castagno 15-6-1 2.99 .902 Maine Nordiques 18U AAA.

After a crushing seven-game semi-final exit against the Thunder Bay North Stars in last year’s playoffs the Dryden Ice Dogs are looking to atone. Dryden is no stranger to winning championships, capturing consecutive titles as recently as  2017 and 2018 under head coach Kurt Walsten. A hard-rock defenceman as a player, Walsten traditionally ices a physical, deep line-up.

The 2023-24 season will likely follow the script.

“What we tell our guys is what you did last year means nothing. You’re going to earn your ice time here by what you do this year. . . Last year is behind us. We want to be the hardest working team in the league,” said last year’s coach-of-the-year.

“For us here, we try to work on the little things. We’re not a one-dimensional team. We take pride in our d-zone. If we work hard and take care of our d-zone, that creates your offence.”

The Ice Dogs typically lead the SIJHL in size. They do again this year. Based on the 26 players on their roster the average Ice Dog is nearly 6’2 and weighs in at 200 pounds.

“You look at our stats. Most teams are homers in this league. . . We play the same way no matter where we are. Losing to Thunder Bay–tough. Losing to any team in the game seven in double-overtime is tough. . . Look at all the things we could have done and didn’t–that’s a lot harder to lose that way than losing 10-0 or four straight.”

Walsten’s game plan against Kenora (an exhibition game 4-2 loss) was non-existent by design. Assistant coach Jake Gushue took the reins while Walsten assessed. 

“You’re trying to see, especially the new guys coming in here, what they can do. Our game plan was ‘Hey, we’re going to drop the puck. We’re going to drop the puck, we’re going to work hard, and when you hear a whistle get out of there. Once the regular season begins we’re going to have a forecheck, we’re going to have a d-zone. We haven’t even worked the powerplay and it showed yesterday.”

The penalty kill had two scored against that game. Dryden outshot Kenora 55-31 on the plus side. Dryden sat most of their big guns. The next day Dryden defeated Fort Frances to even their record at 1-1 in the preseason.

Last year Dryden the most goals scored in the league, and led the SIJHL in powerplay and penalty kill.

“All we want our guys to do is compete. When you compete hard it shows you care,” said Walsten. “If you care and make a mistake there’s nothing wrong with that. But when you don’t work hard, and you make excuses, and you have bad body language why would we reward you?” 

Walsten’s currently the longest tenured coach in the league. He brings a strong work ethic to the table and expects the same.

“When you play junior hockey you haven’t done anything in the hockey world,” he offered. “You should be working hard to use that junior opportunity to get somewhere in hockey–a scholarship, sign a pro contract. So why not when you’re here work hard?

“It’s not all about winning and losing. You can lose a game and do it the correct way,” Walsten continued. “You lose a game and you’re lipping off to the ref, and you’re busting sticks and acting brutal, well that’s unacceptable here. It’s not all about winning and losing. You can lose a game and do it the correct way.”

Walsten is currently the longest tenured coach in the SIJHL. The Dogs have seven returning players. Goalies Zac MacDonald and Eric Clark are not on that list. Just two defenceman and five forwards are back. The remaining players will be tasked to learn the Dryden Way.

“You can’t hope for breaks, you have to make your breaks,” he said. “This year is a totally new year. Right now, every team thinks they’re going to win this year. The reality of it all: there’s only going to be one. . . It’s what your team is when the playoffs come.”

Don’t be wishing Kurt Walsten luck. That’s a two-minute minor (maybe even a penalty shot) in his world.

Dryden opens with a weekend set against Fort Frances followed by a home-and-home against Red Lake.