THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The Superior International Junior Hockey League’s newest franchise, the Wisconsin Lumberjacks, make their debut Friday evening as they host the defending league champion Thunder Bay North Stars at the Spooner Civic Center.
This marks the return of the SIJHL to Spooner, Wis., for the first time since back during the 2011-12 campaign when the then Wisconsin Wilderness were a dominant club in the Canadian Jr. A ranks.
Led back then by head coach and general manager Rod Aldoff, the Wilderness won three consecutive SIJHL Blill Salonen Cup championships and also captured the 2013 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A title before advancing to the national championship where they fell in overtime in semifinal action to the eventual winners, the Brooks Bandits (AJHL).
As for the Lumberjacks, their entire organization been built by Douglas Lein, who also serves as the team’s head coach and GM, and Sophia Lein, as they share the ownership duties, while Sophia is handling the front office in this their inaugural year.
Here a look at the Wisconsin Lumberjacks through the eyes of Douglas Lein in this final SIJHL team season preview.
SIJHL: What expectations do you have for your club entering your initial year in the league?
DOUGLAS LEIN: I think if you come into this deal thinking that your goal is to just have a solid showing and limp through the first season, you are a dead duck. Our goal is the same as every other CJHL team, win a national championship. Any mindset less than that would be cutting our guys and our staff short of what we came here to do, which is win games by developing better hockey players, on and off the ice.
SIJHL: How has training camp gone so far and what have you seen from the players that stands out?
DL: Training camp has been strong. For us being in Year 1, it’s been all about creating culture. We don’t get into standout players here. We focus on getting better and working harder. Each day is a new day that brings an opportunity for each guy. Stand-outs don’t win games; teams that put the work in together win games.
SIJHL: Tell us about how things are going with the club as you head into your opening season in the SIJHL.
DL: It’s been great, but has been stressful for sure. The biggest thing has been trying to find time to enjoy the process. Sometimes you get so focused on accomplishing tasks in preparation for the season to start, that you forget to enjoy the journey. All-in-all, our entire staff and front office has really come together and made big strides in a short period of time. When you think about the fact that Sophia and I started this project back on February 26 of 2018, the 19 months leading up to the start of the season has been a long road. We are excited to drop the puck and are focused on our upcoming series against Thunder Bay this coming Friday and Saturday at 7:45 p.m. both nights at the ever-improving Spooner Civic Center. Tickets are still available.
SIJHL: Who are some of the players you’ve signed that you expect to perform well in the SIJHL?
DL: We expect all of our guys to contribute and perform well. We set out to find the right guys, not the best guys and I think thus far we have done just that. We don’t get into singling guys out based on performance. Development is another story. We recognize development and implementation. You work hard in the gym, off the ice and on the ice to develop stronger skill sets. You then go play the games to ply those skills and benchmark yourself on proficiency. Sometimes you are there and sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board. Either way, we focus on the development more than standing out individually.
SIJHL: What goals do you have for yourself and the team heading into the start of the regular season?
DL: If you ask the boys, of course their answer would be a Canadian National Jr. A Championship. I am in complete agreement with that thought process. However, I would take it one step further and add that as much as that is our goal, it is equally important to our club and staff that we place our players with college teams and work to advance our younger guys to where they want to land.
SIJHL: Are there one or two things that have stood out to you since you were awarded the SIJHL’s latest franchise?
DL: I would have to say biggest point that has really stood out to us since the approval decision from USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, the SIJHL and CJHL has been the willingness of not only the only owners in our league, but also owners, GM’s and coach’s from across the CJHL to call and introduce themselves and the willingness to teach and help. I got a call about two weeks back from the Prince George Spruce Kings in the BCHL. From my perspective, here you have a team that just won the BCHL last year and went on to play for a national championship. We are an American team playing in Canada, brand new with no body of work to show and their GM reaches out to say hi, talk about players and welcome us to the CJHL. I think that was something that we didn’t expect. It has been a fun process. We have really found peace with the fact that we made the right decision to pursue joining the CJHL family. We had opportunities with other leagues and we 100% committed to the SIJHL and couldn’t feel any stronger about that decision today than we ever have.
SIJHL: Any closing comments to wrap things up as you head into your initial games in the league?
DL: We know we are here as the new kid on the block. We are well aware that there are going to be stumbles and a learning curve along the way. With that being said, we aren’t here for any other reason than our commitment to development and our willingness to sell out to get the job done. This is a mindset that we have throughout our locker room and our staff, all the way to our ticket takers. Do whatever it takes to get the job done and done right. Beyond that we can worry about the other stuff later.
The SIJHL’s 2019-20 regular season begins Friday on three fronts.
All league games can be viewed online via HockeyTV.com.