The 2021-22 season started with a rash of injuries for the La Ronge Ice Wolves, but the club came back strong to make the playoffs.
The Ice Wolves lost top players, sometimes with multiple injuries, but rebounded to make the playoffs before falling to the Humboldt Broncos.
“We just couldn’t pull it all together you know,” head coach and GM Kevin Kaminski said in an interview with the Northern Advocate. “Our stud goalie, Xavier Cannon was hurt at training camp … he got healthy and he won some games then he broke his thumb in practice and was out again.”
Veteran forward, Holden Knights and another forward, Aaron Greyeyes, were also injured.
“Some of our key men went down and a couple of other forwards … yeah it was non-stop injuries this year,” Kaminski said. “I haven’t seen that in a long time, the way we were injured this year.”
The team started to get healthy around mid-November. Kaminski said the returning players, plus a few key trades, helped the Ice Wolves turn things around.
The team jelled together and “they didn’t look back” for the rest of the season.
“Everyone bought in and it all started clicking and it was a great product on the ice,” Kaminski said.
Between mid-November and the end of the regular season the team met all the challenges, including really tight schedules of four games in five nights, eight games in 11 nights.
“It was crazy,” Kaminski said. “Eventually COVID went through everybody and guys had to miss a few games here and there, but the other guys that we had stepped up to the plate and we found ways to win games day in-day out.”
Once they had a full line up of healthy players, “we did a lot of damage.”
From a season that “wasn’t looking so good, we ended up, I think, 25-12-2,” Kaminski said of the regular season.
The Ice Wolves took two of six games in the first playoff series against the Humboldt Broncos losing the series to end the season.
“Unfortunately, that was a tough one to lose Sunday (March 27),” Kaminski said. “The boys were crushed. We took them the six games and we had them a little worried. We just couldn’t get the job done.”
Kaminski heralded the character, resilience and work ethic of the players throughout the season. “They had the passion and the heart … once they “started getting the wining feeling they didn’t look back,” he said. “It was a great group to coach.”
The first year Kaminski coached in La Ronge, the team made the playoffs, but the season was cut short, at five games into the playoffs, by the pandemic.
In the previous three years the Ice Wolves had won 28 games. That year they were 33-19-6 and had 29 wins this past season. The team this year included two local players, forward Cobe Delaney and defenceman Parker Layton.
“We’ve changed the culture and we wanted to make it a great place to play in,” Kaminski said.
Looking to the future – the players will be heading home, some to look at educational options, while others will take some time, before heading back to the rink to train over the summer months.
Players came from as far away as California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The team will lose 10 20-year-olds this year, so they need regrouping for the next season.
“We’ll be going to a showcase in Vancouver, one in Calgary, one in Vegas, Medicine Hat. We’re going to be going all over the county to scout to regroup the 20-year-olds we’re losing this year,” Kaminski said.
They will also hold their Spring Camp in Saskatoon May 27, 28 and 29, and there are younger players who will be coming back next season.
“We already have quite a few 19-year-olds that will be back, that will be 20-year-olds. It’s just a matter to trying to piece the puzzle together and get the right players here. We’re looking for goal scoring and playmaking, that stuff.”
The travel north to La Ronge could be a drawback, Kaminski said, but “when they get here, man, they love it.” He spoke of players out ice fishing, hunting opportunities and more.
“It’s a great place to play with great fans.”