Voice of the N.D. Hounds
Here are my 10 things for Week 15 in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League:
1. The Book Is Out! – That’s right! The SJHL, with Rod Pedersen as the compiler and producer, has put together a 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book, entitled The Heart and Soul of the SJHL, which includes the history of every franchise in the league (including defunct/moved ones!). I was honoured to write the Notre Dame and Minot chapters, but there are a ton of great writers who took part in it. Find it online at www.shop.sjhl.ca, or at the SJHL rink near you.
2. The Balls Keep Rolling – I’ve talked a lot about Justin Ball of the Melfort Mustangs on here, whose goal streak is at 10 games, and whose point-scoring streak is at an incredible 28 contests, but clearly sniping runs in the Ball family! Prince Albert Northern Bears women’s midget forward Kate Ball, Justin’s younger sister, was excellent at the recently concluded Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament in Wilcox, in which I was honoured to call the third-place, and championship games. Ball’s Bears romped over the Regina Rebels, with a huge third period, in the third-place contest earlier Sunday afternoon…
3. Congrats to the Stars! – And speaking of the Mandi Schwartz tournament, which is in honour of Mandi, the sister of St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, and who passed away from Leukemia in 2011 at the age of 23. The three Schwartz siblings (the other brother, Rylan, played in 112 SJHL games with the Hounds between 2006 and 2009) all attended Notre Dame, and Mandi went on to play for Yale University after leaving Wilcox. In the 2018 iteration, the Hounds went on a Cinderella run to the final in search of their first Schwartz championship since 2015, but ran into a buzz-saw called the Saskatoon Stars, who are absolutely loaded. If you’re into the women’s game, you’re going to see a ton of these Stars get a shot at the next level, and even in the Team Canada jersey…you heard it here first. Through 14 regular-season midget games, and five in the tournament, they still have not lost, and have only gone to overtime once. Impressive group!
4. Adams In In Melville – Devin Windle is indeed gone as the head coach in Melville, but Kyle Adams, who has been named his successor for at least the rest of the campaign, is more than a capable replacement. Formerly the head coach with the Alberta junior league’s Drayton Valley Thunders, Adams, a 39-year-old from Scarborough, Ontario, has brought in five of his former Thunder players, to play in front of Colby Entz, one of the SJHL’s truly underrated goaltenders. I expected the Millionaires to turn things around real quick after a 9-18-4 first 31 games. Keep an eye on Melville folks!
5. Canada West Off To Hot Start – The World Junior A challenge is in full swing, and the SJHL-less Canada West group is doing just fine, thank you very much. Projected NHL first-rounder Alex Newhook scored the shootout winner in a 2-1 win vs. the always loaded Americans Sunday, then on Monday, one-time Regina resident Harrison Blaisdell scored two goals as Canada West romped 6-1 over a much-inferior Canada East team. The westerners are off Tuesday before meeting the also-undefeated Russians for top spot in the group Wednesday evening! Should be a good one, which you can watch for free on the Hockey Canada website.
6. How Good Can ND Be? – I do try to be sparing on here regarding how much I talk about my own club, the Notre Dame Hounds (believe it or not), but as they are in the midst of a bit of a slump, I can’t help but think about how this team could be a real force if their Top 6 forward group could just stay in the line-up. Between Marshall Wilton, Nolan Renwick, Jared Hamm, Jakob Breault, Conor MacLean, and ShoTakai, there is plenty of ability, and the likes of Jarrett Penner, Curtis Wiebe, Tanner Tarbell, and Zack Kosteniuk are way underrated in their abilities in this league. If head coach Phil Roy could just have the pick of even half of those guys at their best on a given night, then nights like when the Hounds ran over the Broncos in Humboldt back in October are more than possible. Still a long way to go in the season too.
7. Estevan Sticks With Boldt – Nobody, when the season started. saw Grant Boldt being the Bruins No. 1 goaltender by Christmas, but the 2000-born tender from the great hockey state of Minnesota has been brilliant, and together with the promise and solidity of fellow youngster and ex-Manitoba midget goaltender of the year Kadin Kilpatrick, has led the Bruins to deal Jake Anthony, last year’s SJHL goals-against-average and save percentage champion, to the Dryden Ice Dogs of the Superior International Junior Hockey League. Good for Boldt, and good for the Bruins for sticking to their guns on this move! From what I’ve seen, it seems to be the right call. It hasn’t gone as head coach and GM Chris Lewgood drew it up this year, but I expect they’ll be players at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, and that they will make a real push late in the season with all the talent they can bring to bear.
8. Klips Finding Ways To Win - ND faced the Kindersley Klippers three times in a week between two Wednesdays ago, and last Wednesday, and honestly I have to admire them for the way they play and compete. Coach Clayton Jardine said that he honestly does not have a problem kid in his room, and they clearly seem a unified bunch. A six-game win-streak definitely bares that out, with all three of those Hounds-Klippers games going to the team in green, and if they can get another legitimate offensive player or two, they will absolutely be no fun at all for anyone to face down the stretch and into the playoffs. Especially with Justen Close in net!
9. HockeyTV Broadcasts – SJHL marketing guru Logan Fraser told me that he has a plan to deal with the frankly sub-par broadcasts the league puts out on HockeyTV in general (hopefully the present writer’s broadcast not included). I am really happy to hear that though! Some teams in the league don’t even have a broadcaster on their broadcasts, and almost none of them film in high definition (Notre Dame has a broadcaster, and does offer the HockeyTV casts in HD, by the way). Logan didn’t give me any details, but the more professionally the league goes about its business, the better its players are marketed, and isn’t that really the point of the league…to get the players on to the next level?
10. Canada’s WJC Selection Camp roster out! – I love the World Juniors, and I’m sure you do too! Unfortunately no Saskatchewan-natives even made the Canadian Selection Camp roster, but I am thrilled to see Brett Leason on it at any rate! If you have not heard of him, but live in western Canada and enjoy junior hockey, I suggest you get out from under your rock. A Calgary native, who had almost no acclaim even last year, he now has 28 goals and 64 points in only 31 games for Canada’s No. 1 team, the Prince Albert Raiders. He’s big and strong, with a shot that he probably should have to register with the government, and will probably be a high draft pick this year after not getting his named called at all last summer. Personally speaking, I’m happy to see London Knights and Edmonton Oilers defenceman Evan Bouchard on there – and he is an absolute lock to make the team – as he played as a call-up for an Oakville Blades Junior ‘A’ team I worked for a couple years ago, and I know his old coach Mike Daley quite well!
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)