Voice of the N.D. Hounds
Happy New Year! It is going to be a fantastic last two months or so of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League campaign as we enter 2019 as tight a league as we have seen in years. Here are my first 10 things of the new year:
1. Oystrick Out – By now the parting of ways between former head coach, and general manager Nathan Oystrick and the Humboldt Broncos is old news, but the exact circumstances remain cloudy. That ambiguity is probably for the best, though it is also fair to take Oystrick at his own word: that the position was a very difficult one, with “extreme stress” and the “constant pressure of working within the organization,” especially as he had a grand total of zero games as a junior head coach or GM heading into this season, let alone one like the Broncos were bound to have this year. Assistant coach Scott Barney takes over, with long-time Ontario Hockey League coach Troy Smith tabbed to assist, so with a very talented roster, and a lot of the season left to play, there is no reason to panic in Humboldt, despite nine losses out of the last 11.
2. Yorkton-Weyburn Deal – The Terriers pulled off a huge move right after the end of the Christmas trade freeze, grabbing long-time WHL veteran goaltender Riley Lamb, in exchange for 1998-born goalie Ben Laidlaw, and the list rights to Edmonton Oil King Parker Gavlas, and Swift Current Broncos defender Christian Riemer. Weyburn’s hand was believed to be forced, to a large degree, by the reported trade demand of Lamb, and so while there is risk attached to banking the trade on whether WHLers report, it is not an altogether surprising move by Wings’ general manager Tanner McCall. On the Yorkton side, it is an absolute no-brainer. Lamb will provide Yorkton was some legitimately elite goaltending, to play behind a team that scores for fun. Get excited Terriers fans.
3. Weyburn’s Big Fish – The small sell-off in Weyburn looks to continue as superstar forward Cade Kowalski is being shopped around, after the Wings’ captain also asked for a tradefollowing the firing of Wes Rudy.Lots of chatter has every league in western Canada, as well as the USHL and NAHL chomping at the bit, so it will be interesting to see where the elite left-winger – perhaps the most skilled 1999-born player in the SJHL – ends up. The goal-starved-yet-resource-rich Nipawin Hawks seem like a perfect fit in Saskatchewan, if he wants to stick around here.
4. Who Are The Estevan Bruins? – There is no doubt that the Bruins are a very skilled hockey club, boasting top talents like Michael McChesney, and Turner Ripplinger, and more WHL veterans than anyone else in the SJHL, with Bryce Platt, TristynDeRoose, and Devan Harrison in tow…so why can’t they get hot? After cruising past the division rival Weyburn Red Wings to end 2018, they laid an egg on New Year’s Day against the same Wings, and sit 9th in the league after playing the most games. One element going in the club’s way is that their head coach, Chris Lewgood, will no longer have his attention divided, with his duties at the World Junior A Challenge behind him. The Bruins are always players at the trade deadline, so we’ll see where they go from here.
5. Stars On Fire – How about those Stars? Just keep hanging around, they never take penalties, and are starting to get consistent goaltending from Joel Grzybowski. They’re only three points behind the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division-leading Kindersley Klippers, and have taken full advantage of Humboldt’s struggles, so it’s all looking up in Battlefords. It is a team that finds offence by committee, so it will be interesting to see if they make an add or two for goals come trade deadline time.
6. ND’s 2000s – With the likes of Riley Kohonick, Tim Gould, Kyle Robinson, Jarrett Penner, and Cole Stevenson doing a lot to lead the charge, there is not a team in the SJHL that relies on 2000-born players more than the Hounds. Notre Dame is the league’s second youngest team on average, to the clearly rebuilding La Ronge Ice Wolves, but as the group continues to mature, learn, and come together, it would serve the rest of the league to realize that Phil Roy’s group will not be an easy out for anyone for the remainder of the campaign. Kudos to the leadership group of Jared Hamm, Marshall Wilton, Charles Martin, and Conor MacLean for showing the young guys the ND way so quickly.
7. Was Jared Legien Even Gone? – Not sure what the level of panic was among Terriers fans when on Dec. 30 Legien’sWHL rights were dealt from Regina to Vancouver, and Yorkton’s top scorer reported for three contests to a Giants team making a real run in the dub. It was almost like he never left, it turns out, as the move was only to last three games, and Legien is expected to be back in the Yorkton lineup Friday night at home to Flin Flon. Curious what happened exactly, and if he’ll go back there at some point.
8. Heart & Soul of the SJHL – Make sure you keep buying the Heart and Soul of the SJHL book, on sale now at shop.sjhl.ca! Rod Pedersen keeps pounding that pavement, selling and signing books, and yours truly had a tiny piece of it. It’s a great work on the 50-year history of this league that we all love so much, and is such a big part of our province!
9. Showcase Coming Up! – Looking forward to the Regina Showcase on Jan. 14-15, featuring three all-star squads from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, up against three from the SJHL. I loved calling it last year, the hockey was fantastic, and it was brilliant for the neutral. Keep an eye out for even more details for the event set for the Co-operators Arena in Regina.
10. Can’t Believe These People! – The people that were over-doing it, trashing the Canadian World Junior players after their quarterfinal loss to Finland need to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Max Comtois and his mates played their hearts out, and maybe it was not the greatest team we’ve ever sent to the event, but that is no reason to blast and bully these kids on social media, and who knows where else. The point has been made already by smarter people than me, but I still felt the need to throw it out there!
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)