September 24, 2022
By: Gary Moskalyk
Kevin Walker takes over from Geoff Walker as head coach of the SIJHL champion Red Lake Miners.
Talk about shoes to fill.
The Lakers had a .797 winning percentage in 37-game regular season, outscoring their opponents 210-112, en route to a second-place finish. They defeated Dryden four games to two in the semi-finals, and then beat first place Kam River in six games in the finals after opening up with a three-games-to-none lead.
Like all teams in the SIJHL, they lost some key components from last year.
Four point-a-game players: Jordan Baranesky (36-30-66), Ryan Hunter (25-36-61 in 27 games), Ryan Howe (13-37-50) and Nic Bolin (23-17-40) have aged out.
Hunter was voted top forward in the league. Geoff Walker was runner up to Matt Valley for coach-of-the-year. Baranesky finished second to max Collette for league MVP. Howe was an honourable mention for top defensive forward.
And Kiev Kineshanko’s one year of eligibility is off to Elliott Lake.
“It’s going to be no easy feat to replace Geoff,” said Walker of Walker. “Obviously he had a lot of success. He did some really great things with the program. That being said I’m really looking forward to coming in and work for an organization like the Red Lake Miners. Build off the success and the culture they’ve created here in Red Lake. It being a program that players are proud to come and play for and be a part of.
“I just want to continue and build off that. I want to work with the guys we have returning. Hopefully represent our league in Portage at the end of the season.”
The 2023 Centennial Cup will be held in Portage la Prairie, MB in 2023. Last year’s Miners finished 0-4 representing the SIJHL in Estevan, SK.
Walker just turned 28, the youngest coach in the league. He played in Sweden for three years, and had a four-year stint with the Abitibi Eskimos of the NOJHL, racking up 95 points in 190 games with 180 penalty minutes as a defenceman. He captained the squad in his last three years.
The Timmins, ON native coached the Timmins Majors U18AAA in his first season back in Canada. He applied for Red Lake job, Miners President Jason Vinet accepted, and here we are.
Unlike many teams in the league, Red Lake’s training camp started September 12th, but did manage to get in a couple of exhibition games last weekend – a pair of tight losses against Dryden – in Kenora, ON.
With results of little significance, the Miners were encouraged against arguably the toughest team in the league. Even with a short bench as they waited for additional troops to arrive in Red Lake, the Miners’ speed and skill were on full display.
Returning forward Carter Albrecht battled injuries in the regular season. He collected 12 points in 25 games, with a 108 penalty minutes. He played in all 12 playoff games and the four Centennial Cup matches.
“Going well. We’re down a few bodies, making the best of it. We’re coming together, said the 6-0, 187 St. Albert, AB native. “We played hard last night (4-2 loss to Dryden on September 16). Once we get a few more bods in the line-up it’ll come together and we’ll get that team environment back together and start building a family.”
Albrecht’s game is a physical presence on the ice.
“I love taking the body, getting guys energetic on the bench. I find hitting, blocking shots, standing up for everyone, that goes a long way.”
Red Lake were SIJHL league champs, but dropped four in the Centennial Cup.
“Our goal 100 per cent is going back-to-back. Been my goal since we won last year,” said Albrecht of repeated as Bill Salonen winners.
“We know, the returning guys know, what we need to do to compete in the best possible way in that tournament,” he said of competing in the Centennial Cup. “We feel we can definitely add to our structure, what we need to do to compete at our highest in that tournament.”
Coach Walker noted the Miners are still searching for players.
“Right now we’re in the midst of adding a few bodies. We definitely have some work to do in regards to our roster,” he said. “I think we’re a little far off from where we want to be. Not too far off. One day at a time, one step at a time we’ll keep building. Step by step, stone by stone, come playoff time we’ll be ready to repeat.”
With gamers like Albrecht coming back, Walker is confident in the pieces at his disposal.
“We’re confident in the group we do have coming back. I’m looking forward to seeing what those guys can bring to the table in terms of their game play and leadership skills. They’ve been there before. They know what it takes to get to that point and repeat that success. It’s going to be great having those guys in our room leading the way for us.
“There’s some big shoes to fill,” he continued. “We have every intention of repeating that success. While it might seem a tough feat to do we’re very confident in the group we have returning, we’re very confident in the leadership skills they bring to the table. Being league champions these guys know what it takes to win through and through. We want to repeat that success.”
Walker has enjoyed his time in Red Lake.
“I’m extremely excited, very, very happy to be here in Red Lake. The community’s been very supportive and receptive in welcoming me here. It’s an amazing opportunity to work and play for a community like this.”
Red Lake opens their season in Spooner, WI against Lumberjacks on September 23/24. Their first two home games are the following weekend against Fort Frances.