Voice of the N.D. Hounds
Here are my 10 things for Week 14 in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
1. WJAC Team Canada West (forwards) – So the only SJHL representation at the World Junior A Challenge will be Canada West assistant coach Chris Lewgood, the head coach of the Estevan Bruins in his day job. Flin Flon’s Vincent Nardone was the only SJ forward at selection camp, so it was a bit of a longshot, and in general it is an absolutely loaded Canada West entry so…no shame for the three SJHLers that were at camp. The forward group for TCW will be highlighted by Alex Newhook of the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL, and the electric Boston College commit will likely centre the top line en route to a first round National Hockey League draft selection. Wisconsin commit Dyan Holloway, the son of one-time Regina Pat Bruce Holloway, is a returnee and is absolutely lighting up the Alberta Junior Hockey League with Okotoks, while the Manitoba League’s second-leading scorer, Matthew Osadick from Swan Valley is also apart of a fantastic forward corps. Another Sask connection up front is Regina-born-and-raised Harrison Blaisdell, the son of former Pat and NHLer Mike Blaisdell, and a Chilliwack Chief who is likely to go late in the NHL draft.
2. WJAC Team Canada West (defencemen) – This is going to be a dynamic group of defenders, both skillful and solid. Penticton’s Mason Snell is committed to Penn State and an elite two-way presence, while T.J. Lloyd – Spruce Grove in the AJ’s captain – and North Dakota commit Luke Bast are also electric. This is going to be a fun group to watch! Was very hopeful for Notre Dame defender Tim Gould, who was also at the camp last year, but he was not selected despite what was, by many accounts, a very good camp.
3. WJAC Team Canada West (goalies) – If there is a weakness in the group, it might be in net. Matthew Davis has been absolutely lights out as a rookie for Spruce Grove this year, while Matthew Radomsky has been a huge reason that Steinbach has been by a long distance the stingiest team in Manitoba. The other groups are glittering with high-level prospects, the goalies are not, but behind a great D-Corps, they may not have to be great.
4. Kudos to Tyler Smith – Nothing but love and respect to former Humboldt Broncos forward Tyler Smith, a survivor of the crash, who was honest with himself and stepped away from the game last week. Smith, 20, recorded and assist in 10 games after working hard to come back from a broken collarbone, a broken shoulder blade, and nerve damage in his arm, and play this year; what an achievement! But as I said, I have to give the guy even more credit for knowing himself, knowing what he needs to recover mentally, physically, and emotionally, and not pushing himself into places he should not, or could not go. You can find his tweet here: (https://twitter.com/LittleSmitty269/status/1068215626647273472)
5. Humboldt Keeps Adding – At the same time, the player acquisition machine that is the Humboldt Broncos continues, as the club brought in five (yes, 5) more players with Junior A experience around the Dec. 1 deadline. The prize of the lot is expected to be La Ronge star power forward Mitch Zambon, for whom the Broncos sent a pile of cash and prospects. Many had speculated where the 20-year-old Saskatoon native would land as the Wolves continue to rebuild, and he will no doubt be one of many Humboldt players in the January all-star showcase. The question for coach Nathan Oystrick becomes how to find ice-time for all these veteran forwards, who no-doubt expect Top 6 minutes. It’s also a big job for assistant captains Michael Clarke, Brayden Camrud, and Derek Patter to keep the chemistry right with all these moves. Those are both tough jobs. The other adds, with nothing but cash and prospects going the other way, include forwards Brad Girard (very nice year with Battlefords last year), and Tyler Petrie, as well as defenders Max Johnson and Dallen Erickson. Is it a three-horse race between Nipawin, Humboldt, and Melfort for No. 1 in the league the rest of the way? Let’s see!
6. Mustangs Finally Fall – Speaking of horses, Melfort finally lost! The ‘Stangs 10-game win streak ended on Nov. 30 when the red-hot Yorkton Terriers came into Melfort’s Northern Lights Palace and busted up the joint with a 5-2 win. A Dec. 1 loss to Estevan followed, but there is no need for the honourably mentioned club in the national rankings to panic with Justin Ball’s goal-scoring streak up to an incredible nine games now, and points up to 27 games (yes, 27!). Melfort is still a wagon.
7. War in the Viterra – I’ve talked at length about how I feel the Yorkton Terriers have an incredibly special forward corps, tied for the best with Humboldt perhaps. Matt Hehr’s men are getting contributions from everywhere, not just relying on Jared Legien, including from former Hound speedster Colby Brandt, who has goals in four of his last six. At the same time the Estevan Bruins have more than enough talent and experience to make a real run at the division, despite trailing a Terriers team that also has six games in hand on them. Either way, I expect it to be a fascinating duel between these two for the division, especially as I am sure these two clubs, with the means to add pieces, get into a bit of a Viterra arms race.
8. Phair Or Unfair? - Much has been written already about former Weyburn goaltender Carter Phair’s mother Anne, and her testimony at a parliamentary subcommittee on Sports-Related Concussions last week. The allegation is that a coach in the SJHL had a hit-list of players for his team to target, with specific injury concerns, and that the punishment for said coach, and his players who carried out the hit, were not punished harshly enough. If this ‘hit list’ allegation is true, I honestly think it’s not beyond hockey, and in the legal realm, and a police investigation should happen to ensure coaches are deterred from encouraging what I would actually characterize as assault. SJ commissioner Bill Chow said it is out of his hands because said coach is not in the league anymore (and those who have any awareness of the league last year know who the Phairs were alleging). Coaches cannot lose site of the fact that their No. 1 goal should be to develop better human beings, even before developing better hockey players, and even winning games – this is what can happen when someone loses that goal.
9. SJHOF – Should be a good time in August when the Nipawin Hawks host the SJHL Hall-of-Fame Induction weekend and golf tournament! Would not mind an invite!
10. USports vs Canada (bonus) – Canada’s World Junior hopefuls started facing Canadian University all-stars back in 2015, and while it started out with the kids getting all the joy, the students have started a little momentum of their own lately! Two wins last year for the USports stars was the first sweep of the series for the University stars ever, and this year UCalgary head coach Mark Howell, with Regina bench boss Todd Johnson assisting, will look to keep that going! Five Saskatchewan-born players have been selected, with four of those coming from the UofS! The three games go from Dec. 12 to 14 in Victoria, BC, and it should be fun!
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)