Voice of the Notre Dame Hounds
And We’re Off! in the regular season in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. If the first week of play was any indication on what drama is in store for this season, well sign me up!
There have been 11 contests played at the time of this writing, including an epic season opener between Nipawin and Humboldt on national television, and by all accounts, there have been a grand total of zero dull affairs.
That won’t hold up of course, but what better way to start!
Here are my 10 things for Week 3.
1. The Declan Hobbs Show – That season opener on TSN last Wednesday did not disappoint, as the Brayden Camrud-led Broncos put in a tremendous effort in front of 2,000-plus in the rink, and thousands more in front of television screens. But as good as head coach Nathan Oystrick’s men were on the night, Nipawin goaltender Declan Hobbs was better. The 20-year-old from Saskatoon, recently named Goalie of the Week by the league, followed it up with an even more dominating shutout effort two nights later at home, and ended up allowing a single goal on 89 shots over the two games against the Broncos. The one marker he did give up? A brilliantly executed five-on-three that ended up on the tape of Michael Clarke,two minutes into the second period Wednesday in a 2-1 Nipawin win. Not bad Hobbs, not bad.
2. Nobody Panic in Humboldt – Now I am no mathematician, but 89 shots over two games equalsjust under 45 per game – and you’re going to win a lot of contests if you mix that number, with some really good Grade A opportunities. So, nobody panic in Humboldt: that team is going to be just fine! As I just wrote, Hobbs came out on a mission, and Doug Johnson has his defending champion Hawks playing a very organized, tough brand of hockey; but I liked a lot of what I saw from Oystrick’s men too. No doubt it will be hard to replace the departed points of Logan Schatz, Jaxon Joseph, and co., but the Broncos absolutely generated plenty of chances, got solid goaltending from Dane Dow, and are clearly set up to play their hearts out every night. It will be very interesting to see what the Broncos come up with Wednesday night on the big ice in Wilcox against the Notre Dame Hounds.
3. Goals Galore! – Game 1 of the year was 2-1, but every other game produced at least four combined goals, while a home-and-home between the Estevan Bruins and Melville Millionaires saw the puck hit the back of the net a whopping 20 times! It is very early days, and the defensive breakdowns are going to happen, but there are plenty of offensive weapons around the provincial Junior Aloop, so if you like goals, make sure you tune in. I got the call of no fewer than 16 goals over the two-game set between Notre Dame and Melfort!
4. Penalties Galore! – Certainly, some credit for the out-pouring of goals is coming from the high number of penalties that have been called already. Five of the league’s 12 teams have had over 10 power play chances (nobody has played more than two games at time of writing), and the Hounds and Mustangs gifted each other 15 and 18, respectively, in their crazy home-and-home. Thirty power-play goals have been scored already in the league. So that begs the questions: are teams that undisciplined? Or have the referees been calling games tighter than ever so far? Probably a bit of Column A, and a bit of Column B.
5. Optimism in Kindersley? – The rivalry between the Kindersley Klippers and the Battlefords North Stars, the league’s most westerly clubs, is well-documented; so, for the Klips to grab two straight in their season opening home-and-home against the Stars has to be sweet for a club and a fanbase that was rife with question-marks heading into the campaign. The one piece that new Kindersley boss Clayton Jardine knew for sure would be there for himwas just that, however, as 20-year-old goaltender Justen Close was brilliant, especially while the Klippers were being outshot 24-11 in the final two periods in Kindersley on Saturday. Generating consistent offence appears to continue to be an issue, but they are still big, and still have Close – as good a goaltender as anyone in the province, by this writer’s estimation – so Kindersley cannot ever be taken lightly.
6. Zach Anderson Goes Ham – How about a four-goal game in Game 1 of the season for Melfort Mustangs second-year right winger Zach Anderson? He did the deed at home Saturday against Notre Dame, using some good straight-line speed to take advantage of the mistakes of the youthful Hounds. The 19-year-old from Calgary had five goals in 38 games last season, so anybody want to bet he sets a new career high?
7. Power Hounds – Speaking of those Hounds, they scored seven power-play goals over the two games vs. Melfort this weekend. Quarterbacked by the University of Maine commit Tim Gould at the point, and all-star Jared Hamm from the half-wall, they sure look to be a terror with the man-advantage all year. New ND boss Phil Roy was responsible for one of the NCAA’s best power plays at Clarkson University last year, so beware of giving his club the amount of opportunities that the Mustangs did.
8. Estevan, North Dakota – Had to ask Rob Mahon, Estevan Bruins broadcaster and overall great guy, what the obvious connection was between the club and the great state of North Dakota. At least five Bruins hail from the ‘Peace Garden State’, including 19-year-old winger TJ Irey, who is off to a red-hot start with two goals and seven points in the club’s two games against Melville. Irey, of Bismarck, is joined by Johnny Witzke, who has a shot to be the best defenceman in the SJHL and is also from Bismarck, and Michael McChesney – who is as good a bet as any to win the league scoring title this year, and comes from Dickinson, ND. Nice little pipeline they got there!By the way, Rob’s answer was simply that ‘this guy brought that guy, that guy brought this guy, etc.’…
9. Is Flin Flon Back? – In a year where the league is flush with new head coaches, Flin Flon’s own Mike Reagan enters his 11th season on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. Last year might have been a rebuild after a 2016-17 run to the final, but two wins to start this campaign over what many believe to be a much-improved La Ronge club has some wondering if the powerful Bombers of old are back. Only time will tell if the Manitobans are the contenders they so often were under Reagan, but with talented returnees like Brandson Hein, Nate Hooper, and Calvin Boots in tow – not to mention Donovan Houle-Villeneuve who burst so impressively on the scene with six goals in seven post-season games a year ago – they are off to a great start. Hein especially won’t be hiding from anyone – the powerful ex-Everett Silvertip was a real handful when he joined up mid-season in 2017-18.
10. Munz Media – Have to give a tip of the cap to Munz Media, who has been hired by the league to generate some video and photography content once again this year. Their stuff is really great. Check out their vid from the Humboldt-Nipawin season opener here: https://twitter.com/theSJHL/status/1040658515885404160.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)