SIJHL preseason preview: Thief River Falls Norskies

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – For the first time Superior International Junior Hockey League history, one of its former players has returned, but this time as a head coach.

When former Thief River Falls Norskies bench boss Cole Workman departed in the off-season to join the staff at Bemidji State University of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the club hired as his replacement former SIJHLer Wilson Housley.

As an alumnus of the SIJHL, playing for the 2010-11 & 2011-12 Bill Salonen Cup champion Wisconsin Wilderness, Housley amassed 101 points in two seasons in the league by scoring 44 times and adding 57 assists in 81 regular season contests. He also added 20 points in 21 playoff games helping his side capture back-to-back league titles.

Coming by his interest in the game honestly, his father is Hockey Hall of Fame Honoured Member Phil Housley, who is currently the head coach of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres.

After attending school and playing hockey at Arizona State University, the younger Housley is set to commence his coaching career with the Norskies.

With Thief River Falls’ SIJHL season opener just a day away as they host the Minnesota Iron Rangers Thursday evening at Ralph Engelstad Arena, here’s look at the sixth and final SIJHL team preseason preview, compiled by the league and its member clubs, which today features the Thief River Falls Norskies.

SIJHL: What expectations do you have for the club as you head into your first year as Norskies’ head coach?

WILSON HOUSLEY: Our expectations our high this year even though it is my first season as a head coach. Our organization from top to bottom is run at an elite level with our ownership, staff and our facility crew. I know this gives us a great advantage and that’s why we should be very competitive. With our returning core, leadership group and adding new players this season I think we should be at a high level to begin our season.

SIJHL: Give us your thoughts on what you’ve seen from your team in training camp and preseason games so far.

W.H.: The guys came into camp ready to work. Our effort from day one has been highly competitive with our workouts and practices. Everything we do is at a high speed and we’re all excited to get the season going.

SIJHL: What have you seen from some of the returning players from last season’s squad?

W.H.: I can’t speak highly enough about our returning players and our core to start this season. From day one everyone has bought in to our systems and team first attitude. I know Connor Bowey will have another excellent season. He’s one of the best offensive defensemen in our league and I expect and know he will be great this year. Bailey Schmitz is our returning starting goaltender. He is a sound goalie who’s able to make that game changing save in big moments. We will need him to be big for us this year. Brett Piper is very capable of being able to take a game into his control. With his speed, skill and lethal shot, I see him having a breakout year.

SIJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you’ve been impressed with early on?

W.H.: Blake Nelson is new to us this year. He’s a ‘98 a birth-year who is really strong on the puck and has a lot of high-end skill with his hands and wrist shot. We’re really happy to have him. Bryce Johnson is another player who has come into camp with a lot of speed and skill and I see him having a big impact as well this year. Bryce played for Roseau high school last season on their top line and has been in big time games in his past. Overall, Bryce is an amazing athlete at almost anything he tries. This is just two of our top new guys, but I expect a lot of good things from all of them.

SIJHL: What style of play will you attempt to instill in your team to try and be successful in the league?

W.H.: Our style of play will be a fast paced and quick transitioning game allowing us to take advantage of other team’s mistakes. We will be very competitive day in and day out and we won’t shy away from any type of play in this league. We want to win.

SIJHL: Did your father Phil offer you any coaching advice after you signed on with Thief River Falls?

W.H.: Obviously, my dad has been my mentor my whole life and my hero at the same time. There’re not a lot people in this world that have the same work ethic as him day in and day out. Whether it was from his playing career or coaching, the guy works his butt off. Of course, he has given me some tips about coaching and what I should strive for with my team. He’s all about a team first commitment and whatever it takes to get better, and win.

SIJHL: You played in the SIJHL for one of the best coaches the league has ever seen in Rod Aldoff. What did you learn from playing for him?

W.H.: Rod Aldoff was one of my favorite coaches I ever got a chance to play for and I still reach out to Rod for some advice time to time. I can’t thank him enough for helping us win two championships together. What a ride that was. What I loved about Rod is how he connected to each player individually and how he always kept an even keel attitude with his emotions. It’s not always the easiest thing to do but Rod did it the best and kept us focused on what was important.

SIJHL: What goals do you have for the Norskies heading into the start of the regular season and beyond?

W.H.: I want us to be a very competitive team to play against every night no matter who we are playing. I think with our returning core guys that had a great record last year they know what it takes to be successful in this league and we are going to build around them.