Voice of the Notre Dame Hounds
It’s late September, and in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League that means one thing: Showcase.
All 12 teams in the league are playing twice over the span of four days in Warman in a tournament which started on Sunday. It's always a great event.
Here are my 10 things for Week 4.
1. Kudos to the SJHL and Co-op – Already reported on this site here, but kudos to the league, and the SJHL Assistance Program’s primary sponsor Co-op, for investing in a support program that has a strong focus on mental illness, and concussion protocol. The machismo tendency towards silence on the important issues in the hearts and minds of players needs to die, and having a support entity like this is a great first step.
2. Hawks Keep Flying – Reigning goalie of the week Declan Hobbs deserves all the praise he is getting with a legitimate 1.50 goals-against average and .961 save percentage through four starts, while Nipawin bench boss Doug Johnson also deserves a ton of credit for helping his team find ways to consistently win games. The 5-0 start to the campaign speaks a lot to the work of Hobbs, but also to a gritty and deep squad that boasts the league’s best power play (31.6%) and penalty kill (91.3%). In this day and age special teams mean so, so much.
3. ND’s French Connection – Much has already been written about Notre Dame’s hiring of Phil Roy out of the Div 1 ranks in the States, but the Quebec native has brought with him two players from La Belle Province who are already making a big impact. Jakob Breault, an 18-year-old from Acton Vale, has three goals for the Hounds to go with an impressive amount of snarl, and is showing why the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Shawinigan Cataractes took him in the draft back in 2015. The other Quebecer on the Hounds, Charles Martin, is one of only three 1998 birth years on the club, and looks as comfortable on a top pairing with Tim Gould, or a shutdown tandem with Joseph Santalucia. The Hounds are young, but watch out for them as they gather experience.
4. Unbalance in Yorkton – I was extremely high on the Terriers pre-season, and I still think they will get out of the funk that has them a disappointing 1-3 to start the campaign (which includes a 9-2 annihilation at the hands of the Estevan Bruins). The question mark of whether coach and GM Mat Hehr can figure out the roster balance on the talent-laden squad, however, has loomed large so far. Weapons up front the likes of Jared Legien, Brenden Klatt, ChantzPetruic, and the well-thought-of Prince Albert Raiders prospect Aiden Bulych will score goals, but captain Brendan Mark has had to play huge minutes in an attempt to solidify what has been a leaky defence-corps so far. I still think the Terriers will figure it out.
5. Kowalski Catching Fire – Weyburn head coach Wes Rudy was sparing with the speedster Cade Kowalski in the pre-season, but the Ferris State University commit has not missed a beat in the regular season. There is a lot of talk about the Jake Tremblay-Jordan Simoneau line for Nipawin, as well as the Legien-Klatt combo for Yorkton, but give me Kowalski with Ben Hiltz, and Jordan Kazymyra as the toughest line in the league to stop right now. Yes, Cade’s numbers have been inflated by the Wings’ showcase romp of La Ronge, but I say he’s a lock to be a Top 3 scorer this campaign, as long as he is healthy.
6. Oh, La Ronge… – I really thought the Ice Wolves would be just a little more respectable this year, but the difficulty of recruiting up there continues to be a battle for head coach Evan Vossen and company. The big 20-year-old Mitch Zambon has been good, consistently putting up points since his acquisition from Canmore in the Alberta Junior Hockey League last year, but they need more. Between Antonio DiPaolo, and the monstrous former Lethbridge Hurricane Ethan King, they have a couple defenders to build around, but even early in the year 7.25 goals-against-per-game is not going to win you any games. Still early days, but here’s hoping there’s more to come from what looked an improved La Ronge squad.
7. Showcase Broadcasts – Have to give more kudos to the league and Mike Stackhouse for the HD broadcasts of the Showcase games on Facebook Live and Access 7 TV. Beautiful, free, and with replays! If only every game in the league were as high quality.
8. Seatbelts? – In light of the Humboldt crash, there have been lots of overtures for mandatory seatbelt usage on team buses. I’ve never been on a coach bus and worn a seatbelt, and I’m sure that remains true for a vast majority, so whether or not it’s a good idea (it probably is), I’m not sure how viable it is to enforce. Though maybe they said that when the seatbelt was invented in the first place…
9. A Poor Man’s Hobbs? – So many good veteran goaltenders around the league, and with Hobbs getting all the plaudits, it’s important to recognize the quality of the position in the province in general. I talked about how good Justen Close of Kindersley is last week, but Humboldt’s Dane Dow is really turning some heads now too. Melville’s Colby Entz, Notre Dame’s Andrew Henderson, Jake Anthony in Estevan, Riley Lamb of Weyburn…the list goes on and on.
10. Roy Loving Life in Junior – Talked to ND head coach Phil Roy about the difference between coaching college players, which he did for the last 13 years, and coaching his Hounds, and he said simply that he is enjoying the exercise of development at a younger age; being a part of helping build the habits that players can carry with them to higher levels. The only real difference he noted was the level of overall maturity, but college and junior hockey are both critical times in the development of a player, where the player truly decides based on work ethic, and skillset, where he can reasonably aim in his hockey career. There is no frustration with regards to the skill level on display.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)