Voice of the N.D. Hounds
Only 13-14 games remaining in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular season folks! Do up those seatbelts!
1. The Barney/Smith Reboot – After a stretch of nine losses out of 11 games before and just after new years, the new coaching staff of the Humboldt Broncos - head coach Scott Barney, and his assistant Troy Smith - have really done a nice job rebooting the club. I consistently said the team would be fine, considering the barrel-full of talent that the Broncos have assembled, but they still needed to figure it out on the ice. They have now won five of six, taken over the lead in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division from Kindersley (for now), and played very well this past weekend in two wins over the Notre Dame Hounds. The only difference betweennow and their skid is that their compete and buy-in is now obvious, and I have to point a big portion of credit to Barney and Smith. Troy Smith and I used to work together for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League by the way, back in the rookie season of Jeff Skinner of 2008-2009.Barney and Smith (sounds like a law firm) are also both good Southern Ontario boys, just like me (I know Saskatchewan folks, yell at your screens if you want).
2. How Will The Stars Respond? – Terrible news out of Battlefords is that star forward Matthias Urbanski is going to miss a considerable amount of time with an arm or wrist injury (reports conflicting), received last Friday as part of the first of a two-game set in Flin Flon. I am a huge fan of the B.C.-born forward, and it’s better for everyone if the best players are on the ice; and more than that, if you are a true fan of hockey, you should never want to see anyone get hurt. Hope he recovers quickly! How will the Stars respond though, it’s a good question? Dayton Heino filled a bit of that void the next night with two goals and an assist, after what was a bit of a frosty start to his Battlefords career, but he was an all-star last year with Melville, so maybe he can continue to step it up? I do like how Brayden Klimosko has built his club though, led by the all-around brilliance of captain Cody Spagrud on the back-end, so it bears watching over the next little bit!
3. What’s Going On In Melfort? – Honestly, it’s hard to say given the level of talent they can bring to bear. Trevor Blevins’ men have had a brutal schedule in January, to be honest, but a 2-8 month has come a bit out of left field. A reported long-term injury to 1A-1B goaltender Hunter Arps prompted the Mustangs to bring in 19-year-old Noah Giesbrecht from the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba league at the deadline to play with Shawn Parkinson, but I’m now hearing Parkinson is a little banged up too, so that puts a lot of pressure on the Stangs D-Corps. Big losses to Estevan and Weyburn this past weekend have Melfort down to the Survivor Series spots, and Nipawin steaming almost out of reach in the Sherwood Division, but there’s only one point between 5th and 7th, and the Mustangs easily have two of the SJHL’s best players in Justin Ball and Carson Albrecht, with some nice depth in Tanner Zentner, Kayle Tosh, George King, and the surging Colin Schmidt…so don’t panic Melfort!
4. Goldy! Goldy! – How about Notre Dame forward Cole Golden nabbing the Rookie of the Week honours, with five points on the week? Three assists were nabbed in a 6-2 win over Weyburn last Tuesday, and two goals in a 4-3 overtime loss to Humboldt at home on Friday. The Arizona-born winger has had plenty of chances in the games to start 2019, with that hard work over the year paying off! Now let me have a Don Cherry moment…kids, if things aren’t going your way on the ice, the right way to respond is to keep being a great teammate, putting your head down, working hard, and it IS NOT sulking! Goldy had a tough start to the year, but responded to it all the right way, is loved by everyone around ND Junior A; we can all learn from the way he’s gone about this year! Way to go Cole!
5. The Wings Ain’t Dead! (again) – That’s twice now over the last month, since the trade deadline deals of Riley Lamb to Yorkton and Cade Kowalski to Flin Flon, that the Wings have taken major punch in the face in the form of heavy losses, and responded heroically. Weyburn got two brilliant performances from Cody Levesque in net this past weekend, earning three out of four points against Nipawin and Melfort at home, and so we are left to wonder how intense the battle between the Wings and Melville Millionaires for the final playoff spot will get. There is plenty of jam on this Weyburn team if they can keep the gas in the tank, but like all teams without a ton of depth, and I mean no disrespect, it all comes back to the question of ‘Can your best players consistently be your best players’?Challenge served Ben Hiltz and Jordan Kazymyra. Good choice to make long-time Wing Tyran Brown the captain, after the vacancy left by Kowalski! Guy plays hard, has great size, and is very underrated in the SJHL.
6. Terriers Need To Make Hay – For Yorkton fans, the latest Estevan Bruins five-game win streak comes at an alright time, because the Terriers have seven (yes, 7) games in a row at home between Jan. 19 and Feb. 5. Head coach Matt Hehr’s team has to make serious hay over that span, and so far, sogood as they have taken two wins out of the three games so far. A two-game set with Kindersley in town at the end of January and beginning of February should be fascinating, though only if they can figure out their goaltending situation. Either Andrew Henderson or Ryan Ouellette need to pick up the ball, because even with an all-world offence likes Yorkton’s, you can’t be spotting teams 4-0 first-period leadsand hope to come back on a regular basis, like they did vs.Melfortlast Tuesday.
7. Have A Night Cody! – How about three points and a first star performance in your SJHL debut? Not a bad start for Estevan call-up Cody Davis, a 2002-born forward out of the Moose Jaw Generals midgets, who did just that in the Bruins’ Friday night destruction of the Melfort Mustangs. To top it all off, the Alameda, SK native scored his first of two goals on the night a mere 57 seconds into his first ever junior game…not bad, not bad.
8. The King (Cunningham) of PIMs – Estevan defender Austin King-Cunningham didn’t play this past weekend, continuing to serve his four-game suspension for a cross-check he levelled at a Weyburn player on Jan. 18. At a league-leading 174 penalty minutes through 37 games, with 12 contests to go for the Bruins, I wonder how high the big man’s PIMs will go? Current University of Regina, and then Battlefords North Stars forward Keith Anderson led the way with 225 last year, the most since another North Star, Tony Oak, fought his way to 270 in 2008-2009! One feels King-Cunningham will eclipse at least Anderson!
9. The SJHL's Most Underrated Player Is ... –T here are a lot of good answers to this question, but for me it’s easily Humboldt’s 21-year-old forward Owen Guenter. The Alberta native has 43 points through 47 games, but is so consistent, and effects almost every shift he’s on with his absolutely blazing speed. He never quits, and he played so well again this weekend against ND, posting four points, and is a great fit on the club’s top line with Michael Clarke and Drew Warkentine, two guys that like to slow the game down. How Guenter wasn’t at the Showcase absolutely blows my mind…
10. Oh…U of R…(bonus) – I don’t want to talk about this too long, but I called the University of Regina men’s hockey vs the University of Alberta on Saturday afternoon…just brutal. The Albertans won 7-1, outshot the Cougars 60-13, AND former Regina Pats goaltender Dawson MacAuley absolutely stood on his head. Sure, the Cougs have nothing to play for, and sure the Albertans are very much in the hunt for Canada West’s top seed, but I didn’t see a lot of pride in the game of the UofR. I’m not at all saying they, or anyone, are bad kids, and yes, the UofA is essentially a professional hockey team, but still…it was brutal.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter on @neugsie)