The Dryden GM Ice Dogs will have one less opponent to play against in the 2022-2023 hockey season.

The Superior International Junior Hockey League has announced that Minnesota’s Thief River Falls Norskies are no longer affiliated with the league and will not be playing next season.

“The Norskies organization wishes to thank the loyal fans, sponsors and season ticket holders for their support these past five years. We were blessed to be a part of this community for the past five years and look forward to your support in our pursuit for junior hockey next season.”

Co-owner of the Norskies’ ownership group, Dave Beito, says they are exploring prospects for a new team and league in Thief River Falls, and are looking to bring hockey back to the area by the 2023-2024 season.

Thief River Falls joined the SIJHL in the 2016-17 season. But in 2020, they and the Wisconsin Lumberjacks were forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions.

The team wasn’t able to recover by the 2021 season, failing to complete their schedule obligations to the league. The Norskies only played 21 games of the shortened SIJHL season before being disbanded in January due to failing to meet minimum roster requirements. They had a 5-16 record at that point.

“We didn’t foresee ourselves in this position, even back in January when there was no choice but to shut them down,” said SIJHL Commissioner Darrin Nicholas. “It’s no secret that our operations in Thief River Falls last season struggled to meet minimum expectations of the league in all areas. Substantial change was required.”

Ultimately, the SIJHL will be moving forward as a seven-team league for next season after the addition of the Sioux Lookout Bombers. And as Nicholas notes, the SIHJL will continue to keep the door open for a return of the Norskies.

“Thief River Falls is a market for our league worth fighting for, and fight we did,” adds Nicholas. “We know there’s passionate and committed fans and volunteers there willing to step up if given the opportunity. Our door will always be open for discussion to resume operations in that beautiful community and facility.”

Through the Norskies’ final 21 games in the 2021-2022 season, defenceman Alan Yu led the team in scoring with two goals and 12 assists for 14 points. Forward R.J. Dickie and defenceman JJ Martin were tied for second with 13 points each. Goalie Matthew Loney posted a record of 4-11 with an 0.893 save percentage.