This weekend’s fundraising games between the Dryden GM Ice Dogs and Red Lake Miners could be the first step to bringing the Superior International Junior Hockey League to Kenora permanently.

The Ice Dogs and Miners are playing tonight and tomorrow night at the Kenora Recreation Centre, with funds going towards Triple P.L.A.Y. and athletic programming at Beaver Brae and St. Thomas Aquinas.

“When Barry Reynard first reached out to us about doing this, it took me all of about 5 seconds to jump on board,” explained Commissioner of the SIJHL, Darrin Nicholas, in an interview with Q104, KenoraOnline and DrydenNow.

“This is a great cause. And if we can support it, bring some awareness to it, help raise some funds and at the same time, expose our brand of hockey to the Kenora market... it’s a perfect fit for us,” he adds.

After Minnesota’s Thief-River Falls Norskies dropped out of the league after the 2021-2022 season, the SIJHL sits at 7 teams after the addition of the Kam River Fighting Walleye in 2020-2021 and the new Sioux Lookout Bombers ahead of 2022-2023.

Communities with teams in the area include Dryden, Fort Frances, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, Kam River just outside of Thunder Bay and even as far as Wisconsin. But is Kenora next?

“When you look across our landscape, the one glaring omission is Kenora,” says Nicholas. “There’s no secret that we’ve been anxious and we’ve had our eye on that market for a while. For whatever reason, it hasn’t pulled together. But it’s certainly something that’s high on our radar.”

A potential deal to bring the SIJHL to Kenora fell through in 2015 under the SIJHL’s previous Commissioner, Bryan Graham. Kenora last had a Junior A team in the 70s and early 80s. The Thistles spent 14 seasons in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League before the program shut down in 1982.

Looking ahead to the SIJHL’s 2022-2023 season, Nicholas says he’s excited to see the return of the Red Lake Miners, who are coming off the SIJHL Championship win and a national Centennial Cup appearance, with new head coach Kevin Walker.

The Tim Hortons Smile Cookie campaign is also fundraising for Triple P.L.A.Y. this month. Purchase a Smile Cookie from September 19 to September 25, and all proceeds raised will go directly to Triple P.L.A.Y.