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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

NEUGSIE'S AROUND THE SJHL

By: Jamie Neugebauer
Voice of the ND Hounds

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Playoffs have started, and boy are they tasty! Here are my 10 things!

1. My Series To Watch – Can I just say all of them for Round 1? Goodness, what a treat SJHL fans are in for. Honestly, the only series with a clear favourite, in my estimation, is the Nipawin-Yorkton series, as the defending champs, sitting at home, resting, and watching the Terriers use all sorts of energy to survive against the Notre Dame Hounds, should be licking their chops. Otherwise, they are all pick’em series’! Buckle up, get a HockeyTV account if you need to, but find a local SJHL rink and get out to a game, starting Friday night!

2. Couple Commitments! – Have to pause the playoff chatter to salute a couple guys who have picked up recent commitments to post-secondary institutions around North America.Battlefords’ 20-year-old goaltender Chad Duran signed on with Division III NCAA’s State University of New York at Canton, Flin Flon’s defender Vaughan Bamford landed at D3 Lake Forest College in Illinois, and Broncos’ rookie forward Reagan Poncelet is heading to Darcy Haugen’s alma mater Briercrest, a Bible College with a hockey team, based in Caronport, SK. Kindersley captain Cam Shorrock committed to DIII Bryn Athyn College in Pennsylvania, while Melville skipper Cory Schillo is heading to the University of Wisconsin at River Falls D3 program. Congrats to all!

3. Picking A Favourite – People keep asking me who my top dog favourite to take the Canalta Cup is as we enter the post-season for real, and honestly, it’s as hard to call as anything I’ve ever been asked to predict! I think everyone from No. 1 Nipawin to No. 6 Humboldt have a realistic shot, though if I had to go on form heading into the post-season, I loved the heavy, battle-hardened, exuberant style of the No. 2 seeded Battlefords North Stars. They’ve been hot, getting great goaltending from Joel Grzybowski, and the barn in NB has been rocking, so take that as you want. The goaltending match-up in the Melfort-Kindersley series is sneaky elite, with Noah Giesbrecht and Shawn Parkinson both red hot for the Mustangs, and the reigning goaltender of the year Justen Close, in the Klippers net, brimming with confidence after receiving his commitment to the University of Minnesota.

4. Piller’s Period – It was relatively clear that the Red Wings were overmatched by the Flin Flon Bombers, but I have to tip my cap to rookie Weyburn forward Jacob Piller for an epic second period in Game 1 of their series at the Crescent Point Palace. After FF had put up a four-spot on the Wings in the game’s opening stanza, the former Swift Current Legionnaires midget star out of Balgonie put Weyburn on his back, sniping a hat trick in under 10 minutes, to make a game of it. Two more third-period markers by the Bombers sealed a 7-3 win for the Manitobans, but still, impressive stuff for the 2000-born Piller after only nine tallies in the regular season.

5. Rusty Vets in the ND-Yorkton series? – There is no hiding the fact that the Notre Dame Hounds struggled for scoring depth while captain Jared Hamm and 20-year-old Conor MacLean were out injured for the better parts of February and early March. At the same time, Yorkton’s forward depth and, with all due respect, pretty easy strength of schedule over the same span, meant that the long-term injury to Jared Legien was easier to overcome. So, it would be fair to expect some rust after dropping those three vets into playoff hockey right away, and while especially the ND pair did not play badly at all, I do feel that rust showed. Legien managed two assists in Game 1, which was by far his best of the series, while Hamm and MacLean, along with their centreman Nolan Renwick – himself still trying to shake off the rest of a two-month injury during the campaign – were unable to get any points at all. A magnificent series for the all Notre Dame high schooler line of Zack Kosteniuk between Curits Wiebe and Qaritaq Kusugak picked up a lot of the slack, but you know what they say: rust is a killer.

6. No Boots, No Problem? – By all accounts, the Flin Flon Bombers did not suffer from the loss of their No. 1 defenceman Calvon Boots in their Survivor Series, with the 21-year-old all-star from Alaska suspended two games for a hit on Melfort’s Carson Albrecht in the final game of the regular season. But Boots missed all of February with an injury as well, and played in only that game against the Mustangs before the playoffs started, so it will be fascinating to see how he adjusts when the Bombers visit the North Battleford Civic Centre for Game 1 on Friday night. It may be that while Flin Flon did not need him for their series against Weyburn, he might have needed it to get sharp, especially with the all-out attack style of forecheck that I expect North Stars coach Brayden Klimosko will launch at the Bombers.

7. Turn Up Saskatchewan! – There were great crowds at the Survivor Series folks, but I want to see even more people out! These is going to be epic, tense, hard-fought playoff series’, with skill and tenacity well worth the price of admission! Come out in droves people, don’t make excuses! It’s going to be fun.

8. Congrats Battlefords, Your Reward Is A War – The North Stars worked extremely hard to catch their blood rivals the Kindersley Klippers to take the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division title, and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. But I was looking at the weapons that the No. 7 Flin Flon Bombers can bring to the battle, and it made me shake my head…man oh man the parity in the league, and the number of teams going hard for a championship, is really exciting, especially at a time where leagues like the Western Hockey League, the National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball, are just full of teams just hoping to stink for a good draft pick, or to give time to young players to develop. Don’t take the 2018-19 SJHL season for granted folks!

9. Salute To The 98s – With ND and Weyburn eliminated, I have to send a quick shout out to a group of 1998 birth years, who have finished their junior hockey careers. Hounds Marshall Wilton, Conor MacLean, Charles Martin, and Matty Lukacs all are unbelievable people, competitors, leaders, and hockey players (in order of importance), and I can’t tell you how much I’ll miss all of them! I obviously didn’t know many of the Weyburn grads, including Eric Soar, Drew Anderson, Tyran Brown, Zac Gladu, and Sean Olson, but I do know Burke Johnstone, as he was a long-time Hound and played for the junior team for a lot of last year, and I can tell you he is also an awesome young man, and it’s going to be way different not seeing him around the rinks as well!

10. Thanks Roddy! – I finally have to thank the creator of this website, Roddy Pedersen, for coming to do colour commentary on my broadcast of Game 2 of ND and Yorkton! It was a blast, he’s an incredible, professional broadcaster, and it was an honour to work with him! Hopefully we can do more games in the future!

(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)

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