Voice of the ND Hounds
The Canalta Cup Final is off and running in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Here are my 10 things!
1. Oh, It’s Physical! – In my opinion, to evaluate the average age of a hockey team is a waste of time, but to look up the total number of collective junior hockey games played is far more valuable. It isn’t surprising, then, that the Canalta Cup finalists, the Melfort Mustangs and Battlefords North Stars, were two of the Top 4 most experienced clubs in the SJHL this year. One of the things that experienced teams know is that to survive in the playoffs in a league like this one, you need to have an aggressively physical mentality (maybe with the exception of the late 90s-early 2000s Detroit Red Wings?), and these two have demonstrated it already. Keep your head up out there, as especially in Melfort’s Game 2 1-0 victory, the teams were thumping each other. Get ready for the hate-ons to keep growing folks!
2. The Goaltending (Battlefords) – Can’t talk about this series without checking in on the goaltending, and especially Stars net minder Joel Grzybowski continues to post one ridiculous performance after another. Absolutely he would’ve liked to have Melfort defender Jake Hobson’s second period seeing-eye wrist shot back in that Game 2, but if you as a goaltender give up only one goal in a game, you deserve better than zero run support. The Hafford native, whose rights in the WHL are owned by the Victoria Royals, has still only given up 22 goals in 909 playoff minutes…that is absolutely remarkable (1.45 GAA, .956 remarkable). He has also kept Justin Ball and Carson Albrecht to one goal so far in the series, so one has to say the Stars team defence and Grzybowski have more-than done their job so far.
3. The Goaltending (Melfort) – Yes, the Game 1st six-spot that the Stars put up on the Mustangs, and No. 1a goaltender Noah Giesbrecht, isn’t a great look, but three of those goals came in the span of under a minute between the 18:18 and 19:11-marks of the third period. Other than that, Giesbrecht was not really at fault for Game 1s failure. That being said, Trevor Blevins is a far far better coach than me, and he looked like a genius after Shawn Parkinson put on a show in his Game 2 start, in which he grabbed a 28-save shutout. What is the last time Battlefords was shut out in a playoff game, you ask? March 18, 2015, with a 40-stop shutout by graduating University of Nebraska-Omaha starting goaltender Evan Weninger and his Kindersley Klippers. Interestingly enough, current Battleford captain Cody Spagrud was a midget call-up in that game, as his season with the Swift Current Legionnaires had ended. Impressive streak of 43 games! Parkinson was pretty good in Game 3 as well, until he got the quick yank after giving up two goals by the media time-out mark of the second period. Giesbrecht gave up two goals himself on eight shots the rest of the way, so where Blevins goes from here, I have no idea.
4. Jardine Out, Childerhose In – The Kindersley Klippers announced mid-way through Game 3 of the final that their head coach and general manager Clayton Jardine was moving on. The Lacombe, AB native told me that he “has irons in the fire” but would not comment any further on his next steps. Jardine was immediately replaced by 29-year-old Battleford native Garry Childerhose, who just wrapped his fifth year assisting Mike Reagan in Flin Flon. Childerhose played in 136 SJHL games between 2007 and 2010 for the Melfort Mustangs, before playing Division III at the State University of New York at Geneseo. It’s not surprising that Jardine attracted a ton of external interest after the job he did in Kindersley this year, so I know he’ll more-than land on his feet! I don’t know Garry as well, but had a great chat with him at the Regina Showcase this past year, and know he’s a great hockey guy. It’s always tough to see a good guy like Jards move on, but best of luck to him!
5. A Couple ND Commits! – I have to throw a shout out to a couple incredible guys, as graduating Notre Dame 1998-birth years Charles Martin and Conor MacLean have committed to play Division III NCAA hockey for the University of Wisconsin-Superior next year! Extremely happy for both of these fellas, who I absolutely count as friends. Charles was an awesome leader all year for the club, embraced very quickly what it means to be a Hound, was always extremely helpful to me, and is a heck of a two-way defenceman! Conor re-joined the club in mid-November after things didn’t work out for him in the Maritime Hockey League in New Brunswick, and he fit in perfectly, adding some excellent skill and experience to the Hounds Top 6 forward group when he was healthy. Some readers have chirped me for being ND biased at times, and I have to say that I don’t mind people thinking that! I also have to say that it’s now five Hounds with commitments from this past year’s team, which is the most in the league. What are we doing here if not helping kids to move on in the game, and realize their dreams? Love both of those guys and their families very much!
Weyburn, Melville, Flin Flon, Melfort All Have Commits For Next Year – General Managers often hold their cards close to their chest around this time of the year, so it’s refreshing to see a couple SJ clubs willing to announce a couple of commitments for next year already! The four teams I listed have new players officially agreed to come next season, with the most belonging to Kyle Adams and the Melville Millionaires. From that group I’m most interested to see new Mils goaltender Kaleb McEachern, a big boy out of Penticton, BC who only narrowly missed out on a spot with the Merritt Centennials in the BCHL this year, and was very solid for the Okanagan Hockey Academy prep team. Melfort snagged a big Edmonton-based defenceman out of a solid CAC Canadians midget program named Kevin Bachul, who pitched in with 10 goals in 32 games as a defenceman in Alberta’s high-quality midget league. Of Weyburn’s commits, I cannot speak with any sort of authority in seeing them play, but how about 2001-born right winger Jaeger Lapointe, who is awesomely named Jaeger, and put up a point-per-game, as well as a league-second-most 132 PIMs for Parkland in the Manitoba midget league! Can’t be boring! Flin Flon has only announced 18-year-old Shayde Peterson, who has a game for the Bombers as a call-up under his belt already, and led the Battlefords Stars midgets in assists and points, despite the club’s difficult campaign. Looks like a kid heading in the right direction!
7. Hobson’s Show – Speaking of the right direction, how good has Jake Hobson been for the Melfort Mustangs this post-season? He scored the only goal in Melfort’s Game 2, albeit one that Grzybowski would have wanted back, but the former Swift Current Bronco and Portland Winterhawk has been a force all season, and has five goals and nine points in 12 games to lead the post-season in defenceman scoring. I talked to Trevor Blevins a couple of weeks ago about how important he is all-around to the club, and he could not speak any higher of the P.A.-native. He’s also a 1999-birth year, so he can be back next year! One of the more underappreciated stars in the SJHL this year in my opinion!
8. Have you heard of Noah Form? – And speaking of underappreciated, I have to throw a shout out to one of a couple real solid steady-eddies on the Battlefords blue line. Noah Form is the reigning SJHL Rookie of the Week, and has two goals in three games in the final after scoring only one in the regular season. But as I’m sure Stars head coach Brayden Klimosko would attest, he is getting that opportunity to put up a few more points by being so solid, and fitting so well on the left side of Battlefords’ excellent top pairing beside captain Spagrud. Watch out for the 2000-born Form to be one of the best all-around defenders in the league next year, as it never feels like Battlefords are in trouble when those two are on the ice together.
9. The Refs Whistles… – It has been a physical series, but kudos to the refs who have so far been really consistent! Three power plays overall in Game 1, two in Game 2, and a reasonable five in Game 3. Love to see them put away their whistles appropriately! I think they’ve been great and contributed to the great quality of play so far in the finals!
10. What’s Up In Manitoba? (Bonus) – Former Everett Silvertip and Saskatoon Blade Bradly Goethals, who lit up the Manitoba Junior Hockey League like a Christmas tree this past year, scored his 11th goal and 23rd point in his 15th playoff game Tuesday night to lift his Swan Valley Stampeders to a triple overtime Game 5 4-3 victory. The Stamps now lead the Portage Terriers 3-2 with a chance to take the series, and earn a spot in the Anavet Cup, on Thursday night in Swan Valley. Three Stampeders were in the Top 5 in MJHL scoring in the regular season, and are capably backstopped by former La Ronge Ice Wolves man Merek Pipes. Saw lots of their players at the SJ/MJ Showcase in Regina this past January…pretty impressive bunch! Don’t count out Portage though.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)