Voice of the N.D. Hounds
Here are my 10 things for Week 16 in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League:
1. Wes Rudy Out – Tough times in Weyburn for sure as the Red Wings' latest five-game losing skid has led to the club firing head coach Wes Rudy. The Wadena, SK native was in his third year as bench boss, and is a casualty of the team not living up to pre-season expectations levelled at what is a pretty talented group of Wings. I called his last game in charge, a 7-3 loss at the hands of the Notre Dame Hounds last Friday (which is a score-line that frankly flatters the Wings, with all due respect). The talk around town is that Rudy was fired an hour before the team was set to take on their hated rivals the Estevan Bruins the next night, and the result of the game on Saturday was consequently a tad predictable, with the Bruins pummeling the disheartened Wings 8-2 after a six-goal third period. Rumour is that Weyburn’s two top players, goaltender Riley Lamb and superstar forward Cade Kowalski, want out, but only time will tell what interim head coach Kyle Haines does with that (if it is indeed true). Lamb was not on the team sheet for the game against Estevan, for what it’s worth. Sucks to see such an excellent organization like the Red Wings go through something like this.
2. TCW Takes Bronze – Team Canada West’s run at the World Junior A Challenge was stopped by a juggernaut American team in overtime in the semi-final last Saturday in Alberta. The team rallied from down 2-0 in the first period to force OT, but ultimately could not find a winner. Coach Rick Swan’s men did find the energy to beat the Czechs in the bronze-medal game the next afternoon, led by two goals from Dylan Holloway (the son of former Regina Pat, and Melville Millionaire Bruce Holloway), so good for TCW for taking another medal from the tournament! Would have loved to see some SJHL content at the event, but there you have it…
3. One SJHL'er Picked For Prospects Game – The roster for the 2019 Canadian Junior Hockey League Top Prospects game was released Tuesday, and just like Team Canada West Selection Camp, there is not a lot of SJHL content to celebrate. Only Humboldt’s fine young defenceman Chase Felgueiras has been selected from the league. SJ snubs include Notre Dame forward Nolan Renwick (those who follow my blog know I think the absolute world of him), Yorkton’s own, and SJHL leading rookie scorer Aiden Bulych, and NHL draft-watch list member Vincent Nardone of Flin Flon. There is no use complaining about how little regard our league gets nation-wide, there is only to keep working hard to change that by doing a better job showcasing them, which I think the league is taking great steps at! The game itself goes Jan. 22, 2019 in Okotoks, AB, and I know Felgueiras will represent the SJ well.
4. Told You So About Melville – I've written a couple times about how I thought Kyle Adams would do good things in Melville, and so far, so good! The Millionaires have won three of their last four, including impressive wins over Estevan and Yorkton. Damian Bentz is up to his old productive self, with six points over that span, while Luke Spadafora, whom the Mils brought in as part of the Logan Foster deal to Humboldt, has goals in three straight. Further, Melville has jumped ahead of Weyburn into the final playoff spot, so look for the Millionaires to keep getting better!
5. What’s Wrong In Humboldt? – With the Broncos' slide of late, with only two wins in their last 10, it is not easy to put one’s finger on why it’s happening. Nathan Oystrick has made a ton of player moves this year - especially spending money for veteran forwards - including the recent acquisitions of Foster, long-time WHLer Drew Warkentine from the Alberta Junior league, and Mitch Zambon from La Ronge. It would be easy to chalk it all up to the difficulty of finding chemistry with a constantly changing line-up, and to find satisfactory ice-time for as loaded a group up front as any in the league. There are always peaks and valleys in every season, even for a team as talented as this Humboldt group, so I am going to say hold off the panic button for now, with the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division-leading Kindersley Klippers only three points ahead as we approach the Christmas break. Still, two bad losses in a row to Melfort this past weekend cannot feel good.
6. The Weekly Justin Ball Post… – Speaking of Melfort, I have to keep including the league’s runaway MVP (for now at least) Justin Ball; the Saskatoon native now has goals in 13 straight games, and points in 31. He also punished Humboldt badly this past weekend, posting a whopping six goals, and eight points over the two games (yes, you read that right). Some are theorizing if he will go the rest of the year without going pointless in a game, but you have to think that he/the team will have a bad game sooner or later. By the way, the only game he has been held off the scoresheet so far this year? Back on Sept. 16 at Notre Dame, though to be fair, he did put up a hat-trick on opening night, which was the night before, against the same hounds in Melfort. Amazing stuff Justin!
7. ND’s Best-Kept Secret – Hopefully nobody at ND gets mad at me for sharing this (kidding, of course), but I’m not sure how many around the league know how good Hounds 1999-born forward Tanner Tarbell could be. He is 6-foot-4, well over 200 pounds, can skate like the wind, can protect the puck as well as anyone in the WHL (yes, the WHL), and is maybe the strongest player in the league. His 12 points through 32 contests so far this year don’t shout dominance, but if he brought it regularly, then the league would have an absolute monster on its hands. His skillset is nuts, and I would love to see him find his potential.
8. Nipawin Won’t Lose - I’m not sure how many people predicted that the Nipawin Hawks would be top of the league by Christmas, given the turnover from their Canalta Cup championship team a year ago. Coach Doug Johnson and his men deserve a ton of credit, with 24 wins through 35 games at the time of this writing, and are two points ahead of Kindersley atop the SJHL. Their goals-for and against are simply remarkable … only 10th-placed Melville has fewer goals scored among playoff teams, but the opposition has only put 66 in the Hawks net, an insane 1.8-against-per-contest. Both Declan Hobbs and Patrick Pugliese have been brick walls in net, and it has been 16 games since Nipawin has allowed more than two goals against in a contest (Nov. 4, if you’re checking at home). If that isn’t a recipe for success, I don’t know what is. It will be interesting to see where/if the Hawks find a dynamic offensive piece or two come trade deadline time on Jan. 10. Have to say young Austen Flaman has quietly blossomed this year in a big offensive role, after being acquired in the off-season from Yorkton.
9. Book’s Doing Great! – By all accounts, the Heart & Soul of the SJHL book is selling like hotcakes province-wide! Kudos to Rod Pedersen for doing a great job putting it together, and an even better job pounding the pavement selling copies, signing autographs, and I’m sure kissing the odd baby, in his efforts to get the book out there! Make sure you come out to one of his signings, pick up a copy at www.shop.sjhl.ca, or at Famoso in Downtown Regina.
10. USports Stars Take Down Team Canada - Canadian University hockey is very, very good folks. It has been called “Hockey’s best-kept secret” for years, but it shouldn’t be a secret. The USports stars beat the Canadian World Junior team two out of three times this past weekend, including in a 5-1 demolition in Game 3 on Dec. 14. University of Saskatchewan stars Carson Stadyk, Kohl Bauml, and Collin Shirley were all fantastic for the USports team, and the Huskies are well-poised to make a real run at the national championship once again. If you are in the Saskatoon area, I cannot recommend coming out to the beautiful new MerlisBelsher Arena for a game enough!
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)