THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The Red Lake Miners begin their Superior International Junior Hockey League season Friday night with some familiar faces in their line-up, but also feature an important newcomer behind the bench to commence the 2019-20 campaign.
Geoff Walker has been brought on board by the organization as the Miners new head coach and general manager taking over for Derek Sweet-Coulter, who guided the club to a number of successful years before moving on to a new coaching role in the BCHL.
Coming off the best regular season in franchise history and the team’s second appearance in the SIJHL finals, Walker will look to build on the legacy started by his predecessor.
The Summerside. P.E.I., product is beginning his second year in coaching following a solid playing career in both junior as well as in the professional ranks in North America and Europe.
Red Lake finished second in the league standing last season going 38-15-3-0 overall and while SIJHL MVP Bryce Young has moved on, the club still has a solid core of returning players to help solidify another potential run for a Bill Salonen Cup.
Here’s a look at today’s fourth of six SIJHL-generated team previews, which features the Red Lake Miners
SIJHL: What expectations do you have for your club entering the 2019-20 season?
GEOFF WALKER: Our expectations this season are really high. We are in a unique situation of bringing back a lot of our core players from a team who went to the finals last season. That being said, we understand that it is a long season and we want to continue to push and get better everyday to make sure we are peaking at the right time.
SIJHL: How has training camp gone so far and what have you seen from the players that stands out?
GW: Training camp and preseason went really well. We’re very happy with our progress this early. The one thing that really stands apart on our club is our habits and the way we work. As a new coach, it’s very refreshing to see the buy-in starting with our older guys right on down through to the younger players.
SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players that you look for to play a pivotal role on the club?
GW: We have some high-end skill on our team. We will be looking to Kyle Uzelman (20g-32a-52pts), Shaye Sommerfeld (18g-35a-53pys) and Morgan Venne (9g-30a-39pts), among a lot of others, to provide not only our offence but our 200-foot game and our habits to create our identity. There will be lots of competition for key roles offensively and I think that can only help our team as we continue to build.
SIJHL: Who are some of the new players you’ve signed that you expect to perform well in the SIJHL?
GW: Ryan Howe an 01-birth year out of Mississauga Senators AAA midget program has been a real stand out in camp and preseason so far. He has high end skill and a very high hockey IQ and seems to be forming some nice chemistry with a couple veteran players. From his play thus far he will be a top six forward for us and we are really excited to work with and develop a player like Howe. We have every reason to believe he will only get better.
SIJHL: What goals do you have for yourself and the team heading into the start of the regular season?
GW: Obviously we want to win it all, just like every other team this time of year, and think with the right additions we can certainly do that. But like I mentioned before we need to be patient keep working and improving everyday to ultimately build up to that point. We as a club are very excited with what we have, but we are not there yet.
SIJHL: How has your time in Red Lake been early on and what excites you about taking over the Miners program behind the bench as coach and GM?
GW: Red Lake has been awesome so far. It’s definitely been an adjustment but the support we have from so many people in the community really does make this a special place to play. We will look to continue our strong work in this great community to make those relationships even better. But like I said there is a lot of support in this community and help from a lot of people. It takes a whole community to run a successful organization and from what I’ve seen we are right on track to keeping this one of the premier clubs in the SIJHL.