The puck drops for the 2023-2024 SIJHL season tonight across the region.

Commissioner Darrin Nicholas has a very positive outlook going into this season with eight teams participating, a first for the league, and notes the benefits added competition can have.

"Its a benefit for the athletes and the coaches that participate in the league to get a more of a variety of opponents, you know again expand our footprint and expose the brand of SIJHL hockey."

After years of being unable to bring a team to the city, the Kenora Islanders were established over the summer months.

There were some difficulties in this expansion, namely the lack of ice time in the city of 15,000.

However, according to Nicholas, 15 home games will take place in Kenora at the Moncrief Construction Sports Centre, with the remainder taking place in Vermilion Bay.

Which he hopes would bring a few people who might not be able to travel to Kenora from either Red Lake or Dryden, as well as residents in Machin, to be able to take in a game.

When it comes to further expansion Nicholas believes there will be but they will be targeted outside of Northwestern Ontario.

"Clearly for a number of reasons our expansion has to focus in the States, and that's what we've been doing, that's what the conversations have been centred around and of course, when an opportunity in Canada, like Kenora, gets some legs, I mean we just can't not follow up on it and see it through."

He says Covid-19 and the border closures taught the league a thing or two and commended the fans and leaders with the Wisconsin Lumberjacks for persevering.

Additionally Nicholas notes more teams, whether they be in the northern United States or Ontario, could lead to divisional play, meaning less frequent travel and shorter travel distance for teams.

Games on the schedule for opening night are:

Wisconsin Lumberjacks vs Kenora Islanders - Moncrief Construction Sports Centre - puck drop - 7:30 p.m. CDT
Red Lake Miners vs Kam River Fighting Walleye - Norwest Arena - puck drop - 7:45 p.m. EDT
Fort Frances Lakers vs Dryden Ice Dogs - Dryden Memorial Arena - puck drop -7:30 p.m. CDT
Thunder Bay North Stars vs Sioux Lookout Bombers - Sioux Lookout Memorial Arena - puck drop - 7:30 p.m. CDT

A full schedule for the season can be found here.