A few years ago, Kevin McCallum was on the road in northern Ontario during
a scouting trip.
“I was working up at a previous job at Cat Lake, and the guy that drove me
around pointed to a house and said ‘There’s a 17-year-old living there
that’s the best skater I’ve ever seen in my life,’” says McCallum. “And
there was no one really there to spot him.”
Today, McCallum is the general manager of the Kam River Fighting Walleye of
the Superior International Junior Hockey League, a Junior A loop that
operates in Ontario, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
He shares that story when asked how much talent there is in First Nations
communities throughout Ontario and, really, throughout Canada. He’s a
believer that many parts of the country have never been scouted well and
teams are missing out.
“I have seen a ton of great players who are uncoached but have that talent
that’s there,” McCallum says. “If we can identify them a lot earlier and
guide them in the process, hopefully we can get them either into a Walleye
uniform or even on to something bigger and better.”
The Fighting Walleye are entering their second SIJHL season, although their
expansion campaign lasted just four games thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the club entered the league, identifying and recruiting talent in
First Nations communities has been a priority; it is so important, in fact,
that one of McCallum’s initial staff hires was Trevor Iserhoff, who was
given the title of First Nations scout. Iserhoff, originally from Moose
Factory, Ont., played a lot of his minor hockey in Thunder Bay and area and
went on to play junior hockey in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, along
with a stint south of the border in the United States.
After his junior hockey career came to an end, he played senior men’s
hockey and then moved on to coaching his own kids in the game. Now, his
role sees him work with contacts throughout the country to find players
from First Nations communities who have what it takes to play at the Junior
“I was fortunate enough to play with a lot of good hockey players and now
they live throughout Canada,” says Iserhoff. “So I’m able to contact them
and see if they know of anyone that has the caliber to play junior hockey.
With social media, I have people coming up to me and asking, ‘Is this kid
good enough to play?’ It’s a lot of social media work, just contacting
people and them contacting me. I know people from Nova Scotia all the way
to B.C. who are helping me out with this. It’s not just me doing it. I have
a lot of help.”
Iserhoff is modest, but the work he’s putting in for the Fighting Walleye
is noteworthy and impressive. His background – having grown up in a First
Nations family, his path to junior hockey, his knowledge of the game – is
an incredible asset for the Kam River club.
They’re also important when he visits a family of a young hockey player and
talks to them about the benefits of joining the Fighting Walleye.
“It’s very important for parents to trust. You’re sending your son to live
in a totally different city and meet new people,” says Iserhoff. “Me,
talking to parents to try and sell the idea for their son to play junior
hockey goes a long way. Having those contacts that are reaching out to me,
to back me up and say, ‘Yeah, this is good for your son’ and ‘Yes, your son
can play junior hockey.’
“Some communities are maybe 500 to 1,000 people and then if you go to a
city like Thunder Bay, it’s over 110,000 people, so you really get a
culture shock and brand-new surroundings. So it will take time to get used
to. Once you do get used to it, you’re going to have the time of your life
playing junior hockey.”
The Fighting Walleye currently have 11 players on their active roster who
come from First Nations communities. The club is holding a prospects camp
in late August and are expecting players from northern Ontario and as far
away as Nunavut.
Iserhoff, who hosts a podcast called Rez Hockey where he interviews First
Nations players and shares their stories, is blazing a trail that he hopes
many others will take as he knows there’s talent out there.
“I hope so, I hope it becomes a trend because there’s enough talent for a
lot of junior teams to have First Nations kids on their teams,” he says.
“I’m humbled to be the first one in Canada but I was able to have a lot of
mentors and people I looked up to in hockey so I think it’s my turn to pay
back what I was taught and who I learned from.”