Kenora Islanders 2023-24 Season Preview

By Gary Moskalyk

SIJHL Experience: D Branden Boress 42 GP 0-4-4 FFL, D Reid Zurkan 48 GP 2-6-8 FFL, F Jeremiah Jacques 4 GP 1-1-2 DRY, F Aaron Bertschinger 16 GP 2-1-3 RLM.

Kenora Players: D Nolan Rawn, Zurkan, Amos Kejick, Emry (or Emery) Bunting.

Radar Player: F Dominic Suhr 18 GP 16-12-28 PCBN Selects (KJHL) 6’8″ 220 born in Las Vegas, NV

Goalies: Matt Stephens 12-13-0 5.07 .863 NCN Flames (KJHL), Noah Behrens-Gould 4-3-0 3.16 .886 Philadelphia Little Flyers EHL.

The Kenora Islanders were a long sought after jewel in the SIJHL crown. The expansion team brings the league to eight teams for the first time. The schedule has many four game Fridays and Saturdays as a result, making scheduling a lot easier. Eight teams will eliminate a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Everything is brand new for head coach Cody Genaille. The Opaskwayak Cree  Nation-born Genaille held the head coach/asst. general manager position with the NCN Flames of the Keystone Junior B Hockey League for the last four years before being hired by the Islanders. As a player in the mid-2000s, Genaille had 85 points in 75 games with the U18 AAA Norman Northstars, and had a brief five game appearance with the Swan Valley Stampeders of the MJHL.

The Islanders job represents a step up the hockey ladder for Genaille. 

“I’ve been coaching Junior B for the last four seasons,” he said, prior to the Islanders 4-2 exhibition win over Dryden in Dryden on September 8th. “Got in touch with Jack Dawson. The rest is history. Started to lay out the foundation. One after another, the pieces started to fall in place.”

Dawson, team owner, was also in Dryden to watch his new baby take its first steps. Though Dryden scratched many of their veterans, and it’s only a pre-season game after all, the Islanders played well.

Kenora had about three months to go from ground zero to Friday night’s win. Assembling the roster was Genaille’s number one priority.

“Used some players I already knew–that I coached against in the past, reached out to scouts and whatnot,” said Genaille. “Know what? Started getting the players. Right now we have enough to roster. We’ll see how it goes from there.”

The Islanders will unveil their game uniforms opening night. The Wisconsin Lumberjacks will invade the Moncrief Construction Sports Centre to open the season September 22nd. 

“I am very excited. This is a big step for myself. All through, this was one of my goals. Another stepping stone. I’ve been here before. Act like I’ve been here before and it’ll all take shape,” said Genaille (last name pronounced Gen-Isle, ironically enough).

Genaille’s been coaching since he was 19. He’s in his 14th year behind the bench. This season is pretty special.

“Feels like the first day of school. We played five pre-season games. If we stumble we’ll have that leeway. Five games, at least we can find our rhythm going into the season. See what happens from there.”

The Islanders will split their home games between Kenora and the Woodlands Arena in Vermillion Bay. 

“The team that I came from had the exact same scenario,” said Genaille’s arrangement with the NCN Flames. “This is nothing new to me. This is just another day to me. A lot of people see it as an obstacle, I just see it as a stepping stone. We can all get better from here.

“I’ve coached a lot of guys who have played in this league. That’s when I started to realize I wasn’t too far off. It’s nothing new. Another day for me,” he continued.

Genaille embraces the underdog role.

“We want to compete, night in night out. I love when there’s no hope set out for us. There’s no expectations, so we’re going to exceed our expectations in any way we can,” he said. “I just love having the cards stacked against me. I love being put against the wall. I’m pretty sure the players are looking forward to it as well.”

Four local players–Branden Boress, Reid Zurkan, Nolan Rawn and most recently Emery Bunting–are signed according to Elite Prospects. Boress and Zurkan played for Fort Frances last year. Rawn, 16, played defence for the U18 AAA Kenora Thistles. The ’05-born Bunting played as a defenceman. 

“I want to note, the ownership group that made this possible, without them we wouldn’t be even playing today,” summed up Genaille. “You know, give thanks to our owner, the girls who work behind the owner. It’s a community. Everybody has to chip in. I’m happy where we are. See where we go from here.”