Voice of the Notre Dame Hounds
Here are my 10 things for Week 6 in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League!
1. Stifling Parity – The parity in the SJHL continues to be stifling, as the difference between the top team in the league (the Humboldt Broncos, at time of writing), and the bottom team (the Melville Millionaires) is only 11 points, through about 10 games played. Seven of 12 teams in the league have double digits in points,and there really are no easy days in the SJ.
2. The Hawks Finally Fall – Not only have the nation’s No. 1 team been beaten – as they were by a score of 5-1 in Kindersley on Oct. 2 – but they also have been downed at home, as Battlefords goaltender Joel Grzybowski brilliantly stopped 34 of 36 shots in a 4-2 North Stars victory in Nipawin Oct. 5. While it’s still early, and Nipawin’s team ethos has been extremely impressive to date, the schedule is not going to get much easier for Doug Johnson’s men, with a home-and-home coming up against a veteran Melfort Mustangs team smarting from an upset loss at the hands of the La Ronge Ice Wolves (more on them later), followed by an away date with the high-powered attack of the Weyburn Red Wings in mid-October.
3. The Klip-Show Is Real – And speaking of the Kindersley Klippers, who as I just mentioned were the first to take down the Hawks…well they look to be for real. Their roster, for the most part, is pretty much the same as it was last year, but clearly new head coach Clayton Jardine has done a brilliant job so far, and Justen Close is far closer to the league’s 1B best goaltender (behind Nipawin’s Declan Hobbs), than he is a No. 2. How about a 1.99 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage through eight starts for the Kindersley native? Just unbelievable – I’ve been raving about the guy since last year. With Devon Cyr, and former Kamloops Blazers prospect Kyle Bosch leading the way offensively, the Klippers look like a team that can do damage anywhere, and not just at home where they are always tough.
4. Jardine and Roy – And speaking of Jardine, the man who is just 27 years of age, and who assisted with the Klippers in 2015-16 before departing to be an assistant in NCAA DIII with New England College, has another connection with the SJHL. The Lacombe, AB native was recruited by Notre Dame head coach Phil Roy to play at Merrimack College, where he ended up playing between 2011 and 2015. Roy never actually coached Jardine himself though, departing for Clarkson University to be an assistant while Jardine was a freshman, but it is a tiny hockey world anyway.
5. Pat Pickup – With some injury issues hampering the Estevan Bruins, their pickup this week of Regina Pat waiver Bryce Platt is definitely timely. Platt’s Junior A rights were dealt from Canmore of the Alberta Junior Hockey League back in January of 2018 by the Bruins, so the savvy move looks to be a quality pay-off for Estevan. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder played in five Memorial Cup games last year (one goal), and joins Jared Legien as the second ex-Pat overager to land in the SJHL this campaign. News has just passed the desk that they have added TristynDeRoose from the Moose Jaw Warriors as well, so big things happening in Estevan (literally).
6. La Ronge Won! Again! – The Wolves are clearly happy to get back Shane Hounsell, as the second-year forward was picked up by Humboldt in the dispersal draft this summer, then re-acquired by La Ronge on Sept. 24. Since then, he has scored two goals and four points in five games, and the Ice Wolves have two wins, including an impressive 4-2 victory over a talented Melfort Mustangs squad last Saturday. Enjoy the high Wolves fans, because a tough seven-game road trip awaits beginning Wednesday, at what has to be a grumpy Estevan Bruins team.
7. ND Is Alive – A solid 5-2 win at home against those Bruins on Oct. 3 was a real team effort, as the club got a goal from all four lines, and a combined six points from the defence-corps. Jakob Breault, ND’s top pitcher with six goals and no assists, bagged another beautiful tally in the victory, and Andrew Henderson continues to stake his claim as one of the SJHL’s top goaltenders. Loads of optimism coming from a Hounds group that has weathered quite the storm of injuries and youth earlier in the campaign.
8. Some Sandpaper Kudos – Speaking of that Estevan-Notre Dame game, there were a pair of fights in the contest, both of which had a combatant who likely was thinking: “I am fighting THIS GUY???”. Huge kudos to Notre Dame’s QaritaqKusugak-Clark, who not only scored his first Junior A goal, but squared off with Bruins, and former WHL monster Austin King-Cunningham, and the Nunavut native more than held his own. On the flip side, Estevan scorer Turner Ripplinger was trying to get his guys going emotionally by going after Hounds big-boy Tanner Tarbell – and I have to say it didn’t go great for Ripplinger. Tarbell is one tough cookie too! Kudos to Ripplinger for even thinking about it though…
9. Alumni Alert! – So incredible to see ex-Notre Dame Hounds goaltender Jacob Standenget going with his Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks, as they opened the OUA schedule vs. Windsor on Friday, and then battled R.I.T. in a non-conference exhibition game in Rochester on Saturday. He had such a problem with injuries last year, but an incredible goaltender with an incredible attitude – so kudos to Jacob!
10. Are the Rams done? (bonus) - Regina Rams head coach Steve Bryce told the Regina Leaderpost that the crime that led to his club’s forced forfeiting of their three CanadaWest wins this season – that they had an academically ineligible player play all of their games – was only “a minor misdemeanour”.
I have zero idea what happened, as the Rams are obviously tight-lipped about the ordeal, but either way, this whole thing is pretty disappointing given how strong a direction the club seemed to be heading this season. So, what now? The Rams do have three more games to make a playoff run, and you would think they would have to win out, starting at home Friday night against an Alberta Golden Bears team that jumped over them into a playoff spot as a result of this fiasco. Regina will then head to Calgary on the 19th before returning home on the 26th for what could be a massive do-or-die tilt against the hated USask Huskies! The ride just got really bumpy, but it is not over. Regina just needs to finish fourth to make the post-season, and are at 0-5 with Alberta and UBC at 2-3.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)