It was not the way the La Ronge Ice Wolves envisioned their season playing out.

The Ice Wolves finished in last place in the SJHL with a 12-44-1-1 record and missed the playoffs for the third straight year. Despite the season that was, there’s a sense of optimism heading into 2019-20 campaign.

“You know what? Lots of us will be back,” said Ice Wolves forward Zach Bannister. “We’re going to show the league that we’re here, we’re not kidding around and we’re going to make a pretty big statement next year.”

Bannister had a sensational season. The Grande Prairie, AB product tallied 70 points in 56 games. After the regular season finished on Tuesday in the SJHL, Bannister was left sitting eighth in overall scoring.

Bannister is just one of several key players up front eligible to return next season. The Ice Wolves have a nice supporting cast with Jake Gudjonson and Jordan Mish. Gudjonson tallied 48 points, while Mish had 43. The Ice Wolves only lose overage forward Dalton Dosko to graduation.

“It’s a long off-season and definitely not something you like to look forward to,” said Ice Wolves goalie Jordan Frey. “Anyone that I’ve talked to around the town or within the team is really excited to get back next year — and kind of show everybody in the league that we can play with them and be a contender.”

Frey was given the reigns as starting goaltender during the second half of the season. The 18-year-old Saskatoon, SK product relished the role and recorded two wins in his last three starts. Frey put a bow on his second season in the SJHL when he stopped 100 of 106 Flin Flon shots in a weekend series against the Bombers.

The back end should be a pillar of strength for La Ronge heading into the next season. Antonio Di Paolo had a magnificent campaign, recording 40 points in 53 games. The Saskatoon, SK product finished the season fifth in league scoring by defencemen.

Di Paolo will be joined by Ben Manson, who along with Di Paolo, will be entering his final year in the SJHL. Manson plays a physical brand of hockey, which irritates and frustrates opponents.

The next order of business for the Ice Wolves is to hire a new head coach and general manager following the departure of Evan Vossen, whose contract was not renewed. The deadline to apply for the job is next Saturday. More details on the position are available online.

Meantime, the Ice Wolves will host their year-end awards banquet on Friday evening at Eagle Point Resort. Supper is scheduled to get underway at 6:30 p.m.

(PHOTO: The Ice Wolves battling the Bombers in November. Photo by David Smith.)