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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

NEUGSIE'S AROUND THE SJHL

By: Jamie Neugebauer
Voice of the Notre Dame Hounds

October dawns in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with the Warman Showcase in the rear-view mirror. Teams have played between six and nine contests so far, so the collective identities are slowly starting to come into view.

Here are my 10 things for Week 5.

1. Nipawin No. 1 – Head coach and GM Doug Johnson’s men stood pat at the No. 1 spot as the Canadian Junior Hockey League released their national Junior A rankings to kick off October, holding right where they were the week before. Unblemished through six games, with a starting goaltender in Declan Hobbs possessing of a 1.50 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage, and a club that continues to find ways – pretty or ugly – to win hockey games, it is hard to argue with that assessment. I said they were at worst a question mark heading into the year; well, it appears, at least early on, that question mark has been answered, at least to some degree.

2. Two On NHL Watch List (A) – Flin Flon is off to a solid start, bouncing back from a year plagued with inconsistency, and the five goals of Vincent Nardone, the first of two SJHLers listed as ‘C’-ranked skaters on the NHL Central Scouting Watch List ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft, are at least partially responsible. A late 2000-born centreman from Rosemere, QC, Nardone has speed and skill to burn, joining Chyrystopher Collin and Donovan Houle-Villeneuve in a trio of fine Quebec-born forwards along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.

3. Two On NHL Watch List (B) – The second man on the NHL’s Central Scouting list is big 17-year-old Humboldt Broncos defender Chase Felgueiras. The Calgary native is as capable in the offensive zone as he is in his own, and definitely looks bigger than the 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds that he is listed as on the league website. He was once tabbed as a solid prospect for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League out of the Calgary Sabres minor hockey system, but it will have to be seen whether he has enough flash to be a legitimate NHL prospect.

4. Two On NHL Watch List (C) –Now I don’t know exactly how important this list is, given that all 31 NHL teams have their own lists, which are far more telling, but how they missed 6-foot-2, 200-pound 2001-birth-year Nolan Renwick from the Notre Dame Hounds is beyond me. He is already committed to the University of Maine, is coming off a nine-assists-in-seven-games Telus Cup (the Midget National Championship), which his Hounds midgets won, and has looked comfortable from the puck drop in the SJHL this campaign. He is also an unbelievable young man, with a work ethic honed from the family farm in nearby Milestone, and did I mention he is only an early 2001 birth year, with so much potential yet to be found?

5. So Many Penalties… – I cannot say with any certainty that this is a league-wide phenomenon, but it sure does seem like the amount of power-plays being given out this year is way up. I remember right after the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, when they tried to take away the clutching and grabbing of the so-called “dead-puck era’, there was a lot of press about the noticeable amounts of penalties being called at that level – well, it feels that way to me this year here. I am not sitting here as a ‘keyboard warrior’ trying to criticize any referees, but I’ve seen all sorts of times when a team has had 10-plus power plays in a game so far this campaign. Why this is the case? It is hard to say…I have seen plenty of savvy players go down pretty easily so far this year and get rewarded for it…so take that however you want.

6. La Ronge Won! – There really is a lot of parity in the league this year, and it is a great thing, so I was very happy to see the Ice Wolves pick up their first win at home to Melville, in their sixth game, 3-1 this past Sunday. I also have to tip my cap to La Ronge’s broadcaster Braden Malsbury, who does a terrific job for the club, even amidst their recent struggles.

7. ND Turning The Corner? – The Notre Dame Hounds are finally healthy and ready to go, and showed a ton of character in beating the far-more-veteran Yorkton Terriers 6-3 in Yorkton on Sunday evening. The Terriers got 10 power plays, and have a barrel-full of talent in their Top 6 forward group, so huge kudos to Phil Roy’s Hounds for pulling it out. Roy has put Jakob Breault in the middle of a line with Marshall Wilton and Sho Takai, and that combination was absolutely magic on Sunday – look out for more from them moving forward.

8. Second Best Tendy? – Who the second-best goaltender in the league this year is, behind Nipawin’s Hawks, can produce many good answers. I talked about how many good goalies there are this year around the SJHL last week, and I still put Kindersley’s Justin Close up there as the league’s No. 2 – the guy is not big (5-foot-10, 160 pounds soaking wet), but boy does the 20-year-old hometown boy have game. It’s a close-one though (pun intended).

9. Take A Bow Riley Lamb! –Listening to Yorkton head coach Matt Hehr talk on the radio about his club’s 2-1 home overtime loss to the Weyburn Red Wings last Saturday night made me absolutely feel a tinge of sympathy for the guy. Weyburn goaltender Riley Lamb, who they scooped in the off-season from the Red Deer Rebels, played out of his mind, officially stopping 56 shots as Jared Legien and company came at him in waves. I cannot imagine Red Wings bench boss Wes Rudy was thrilled with his club’s overall performance, but sometimes you have to win ugly on the road – unless you were Lamb, in which case it was pure beauty.

10. Rams Win A Wild One! (bonus) For those, like me, that love a little University football, how about the Regina Rams in Winnipeg to take on the Manitoba Bisons last weekend?! A back-and-forth affair saw the clubs tied at 25 going to overtime. Noah Picton, Regina’s incredible QB who now has 11,496 career passing yards in his USports career, which made him the country’s all-time passing-yards leader, finds Kyle Borsa for a touchdown strike, and then they hit the extra point to go up 32-25. Next, Manitoba quarterback Des Catellier hits a touchdown pass of his own, only for Regina to win when the Bisons fail to hit pay dirt on a game-winner-attempting two-point conversion! Ah the drama of USports football! The Rams are tied for second in CanadaWest with a 3-2 record, with two of their final three games of the season at Mosaic Stadium. It does look an awful lot right now like the Rams and Saskatchewan Huskies will face off in the playoffs…how tasty would that be!?

(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)

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