Ice Wolves looking for goals as SJHL club heads into 2024

Photo from the La Ronge Ice Wolves Facebook page. The La Ronge Ice Wolves enter the second half of the 2023-24 SJHL season looking for some offence.

The La Ronge Ice Wolves have played well over the first half of the season, that hasn’t translated to wins says Kevin Kaminski, head coach and general manager for the team, in an interview with the Northern Advocate.

The Ice Wolves currently sit fourth in the SJHL’s Sherwood Division with a record of 10-21-2-1. Kaminski says there have been some positives, but at times the team has been its own worst enemy.

“We’ve played some good hockey, but we struggled in the win column,” he says. “We’ve found ways to lose instead of finding ways to win. It’s been a very frustrating year so far.”

He says it’s hard to put a finger on the problem. The Ice Wolves closed out 2023 with a close 1-0 loss on the road to the league-leading Flin Flon Bombers. Kaminski said the club played a solid 60 minutes against the league’s top team, but couldn’t find that next gear.

He said the coaching staff is working to bring everyone together ”to turn the ship around bring the ship around for a better second half and hopefully sneak into a playoff spot.”

The team is still in a place to get into the playoffs.

“The second half is our play-off hockey, starting now,” he said. “We’ve got to play hard, smart, desperate, play with inspiration. We got to compete, we got to battle, do whatever it takes to get back into it.”

Kaminski says the club needs to keep “playing with that same effort and integrity. We’ve struggled to score goals. In practice, we work on scoring, so when they get those opportunities they relax and finish. They’re down on their chances.”

The team returned from holidays on high note, beating the Melfort Mustangs 6-5 in overtime at home, but suffered a setback the next night, with an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the Nipawin Hawks. The Ice Wolves headed south on Tuesday for the first game in a four-game road trip. Results from their game in Notre Dame against the Hounds were not available by press time.

The club may face the road trip without their head coach as Kaminski is in Saskatoon recovering from surgery, but assistant coach, Kyle Schneider, and a board member, Rob Wilson, “who’s been behind the bench before,” will travel with the team. Kaminski says he is in touch with them continually.

Kaminski says he’s hoping to catch the bus when the team comes through Saskatoon, depending how he feels. He struggled through the first part of the season with pain-related issues, before having a hip replacement recently and now faces some time of recovery. But, he is in close contact with the team.

He says there could be some changes to the team in the near future, as the date for the final trade deadline approaches Jan. 10.

“(We’ll) see what happens after the weekend,” he says. “For us, we get closer to the play-off spot, we’ll try and maybe upgrade, and if we don’t, we’ll maybe try and go younger where we get some younger kids in and we’ll rebuild for next year.”

The team has 25 players and Kaminski said, he thought they were playing “some excellent hockey” but have struggled offensively.

“We just can’t score, or (we) give up a short-hand goal, or we have a breakdown. We’ve definitely had our opportunities to put the puck away and we just can’t finish,” he says.

“Our team is way tighter, our goal tending has been way better, now, the bottom line is we’ve got to find results. We need to get wins, that’s the bottom line.

“It’s a matter of execution, and a matter of the want and the will,“ he adds. “The ultimate work ethic. That’s what we need here. Again, those things need to be better. They’ve been very good, except for the execution.

“When you’ve got an open net, you’ve got to make sure you score. The pass has got to get through and then you finish.”

As of Jan. 10, the team had 23 games left in the season, so there is still time to pick things up, he said.

“But it’s got to start now.”

Kaminski is in constant touch with Schneider, keeping tabs of the team.

“You’ve got to embrace the hard times with the good times, and we got to fight through adversity here … we got to get everybody on the same page. We got to do it as a team.”

The Ice Wolves are back on home ice Friday, Jan. 19 when they take on the Yorkton Terriers. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.