Dave Anthony has been a broadcaster in the MJHL for the past 7 seasons. Every week, he’ll share a thought on the 12 teams in the MJHL and other things from across the league.
Take 1: The Virden Oil Capitals who haven’t lost in regulation, added four more players on top of Connor Geekie (who scored his first MJHL goal vs the Flyers). With a roster already at 24 before adding NHL draft pick Daemon Hunt (Moose Jaw Warriors), Grady Lane (Spokane Chiefs), Jake Poole (Kelowna Rockets) and Garrett Sambrook (Swift Current Broncos), somethings got to give. Head Coach Tyson Ramsey called it a “balancing act”. It will be just that as the Oil Caps balance winning now while keeping chemistry together for the 20 games that will remain after the WHL players head back.
Take 2: The team looking up at the Oil Caps in the standings and coming off back to back losses to Virden is the Winkler Flyers, who also managed to scoop up a pair of WHL transfers in forward Justin Svenson (Swift Current) and defender Jordan Chudley (Spokane Chiefs). Winkler also pulled off a trade with the Llyodminster Bobcats to bring in defenseman Jordan Wood. The short-term addition of Chudley and the 19-year-old Wood, should give the Flyers four 18-year-old defenders a little more time to develop.
A longtime coach has told me more than a few times that moving up from one level to the next is the hardest on defensemen. So, it’s a smart move by Jeff Jeanson to give Kelvin Cech the best chance to succeed long term with a young group on the blueline.
Take 3: Staying in the Interior Division, is there a coach in the MJHL having more fun on and off the ice then Ken Pearson with Neepawa? If he’s not biking around the streets of the town promoting a particular MJHL sponsor, showing off his sewing skills or cheering on the Tampa Bay Rays (sorry, Ken. Better luck next year), Pearson is pulling the franchise up by the boot straps. A 2-2-2 record doesn’t jump off the page but for a team that had 13 wins and 30 points last year, it’s an above average start. Adding 6’4 veteran goalie Thomson Phinney might turn into one of those quiet acquisitions that speaks the loudest down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Side note: I’m very much looking forward to the Neepawa name change. The decision to change the name seemed like an easy one to make but to step up and do it, says the team understands and wants to be part of a solution. I wonder if they have a name in place already or if they’ll take submissions from fans? How about the Neepawa Brewers?
Take 4: I’m far from an MJHL Insider or anything like that, but every now and again there are hints of things being done from around the league… Cole Dekoninck being traded to Portage was a complete surprise. It’s an interesting move for the Terriers who not only added the 20-year-old Dekoninck who has 115 games of MJHL experience under his belt, they also added forwards Noah Wagner and Dylan Winsor. It came at a price. Layne Toder was a lot to give up but as the old expression goes, you gotta give something to get something. Dekoninck should get quite a bit of ice time with the Terriers and after coming off a 21-goal season, could be primed for a similar year. Have to wonder if the Terriers view Dekoninck as a player for the year or as a piece to build up and move towards the trade deadline. He would have a few teams interested and would bring back a pretty good haul for a team looking to make moves with future success down the road in mind.
Take 5: Dekoninck’s former team the Dauphin Kings have been busy adding Toder and recently announcing they’ve added Tyson Kozak who is on the NHL Central Scouting “Players to Watch” list for the 2021 draft. While the additions and play on the ice has been impressive, perhaps the most impressive is their social media work. What the Kings have done with their “Free Looks” of warmups, the graphics of their mascot and now with posting pictures of their players as kids dressed up for Halloween, keeps fans engaged and shows the team having fun. I hope Christian Laughland in costume makes an appearance at some point.
Take 6: There are a few early season surprises in the MJHL this year and one that maybe shouldn’t have been is the Swan Valley Stampeders. A 5-1 start has opened eyes and demanded the respect they deserve. Haydn Delorme is tied for the league lead in points with 13 over his first six games. Alex Danis and Jackson Zloty are right near the top with 10 and 7 points respectively. Don’t recognize the names? You’re not alone as all three are first year MJHLer’s but they won’t be relatively unknown for long. A pair of games against the Waywayseecappo Wolverines awaits and pair of solid efforts could go a long way to keeping Swan near the top tier of MJHL teams. If not the very top.
Take 7: Speaking of Waywayseecappo, which people seemingly haven’t done enough, they are off to a fair 3 win and 3 loss start. Opening the season vs Dauphin and Swan Valley and coming through even through six games doesn’t get a lot of applause but also shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Players that will be expected to score, have and will continue too. Conrad Phillips, Mack Belinski and Gerrik Ripley are tops in that category for the team and will be most likely all year and all within a point or two of each other. But there’s not a dip after the top three. The Wolverines are a balanced team and that should bring success over the course of this shortened season.
Take 8: It doesn’t get much rougher than what’s happening in OCN. No regulation wins and only an overtime loss point through the first five games of the year. Getting Evan Herman (who had 7 points in 7 games for the Blizzard back in 2018-19) and Justin Nauchbar (who had 31 points in 55 games back in 2016-17) should help immensely. If not only in the win column but in the confidence column. While I question having WHL players come down only for a short period of time, for the Blizzard, it could have lasting impressions. If Herman and Nauchbar come with the attitude of helping the team both on AND off the ice, it could really help a franchise in need of a boost. It’s a lot to ask of two players around for just a couple weeks, but if you’re the Blizzard, you got to take advantage.
Take 9: No Mikol Sartor? No Mitchell Joss? No worries for the Winnipeg Blues who are on fire with a 5-0-1 record and atop the Southeast Division. Despite losing their top two scorers from last year, Brayden Foreman and the emerging star Ethan Hersant have been shot out of a cannon to start the year. Hersant is tied for the league scoring lead with 13 points while Foreman is right there with 12 but perhaps the scoring pace of rookie Hughie Hooker that has been most impressive. The Winnipeg native has 2 goals and 7 point in 5 games. Last season, the leading scorer was head of second place by 22 points. This year, the Blues are showing a more balanced attack with 18 players already registering at least a point. Cooper Hatfield has to be the early favorite for MJHL Goalie of the Year with a 4-0 record, a GAA of 1.50 and SV% of .944 so if Winnipeg can keep up the team scoring and the lack of other teams scoring, they could be very, very dangerous.
Take 10: The Steinbach Pistons were dealt a blow before the season even started as it seemed like just a day after being named Captain for the 2020-21 season, veteran defenseman Curtis Ireland was shelved with a lower body injury that has kept him from seeing any game action to this point. Without Ireland, 16-year-old Sam Court has been given more opportunity and he’s run with it. He’s put up 3 points in 5 games and his defensive game has been steady as well. As Court finds his way in the MJHL, he’ll only get better and more relied upon, even as one of the youngest players in the league. The whole D-Core has been solid limiting scoring chances against in every game and when chances have gone against, the goalie duo of Simon Harkness and Thomas Couture have been there to answer the bell. As a team, Steinbach has only allowed more then 26 shots against once in their first five games.
Take 11: Back to back solid team wins has Selkirk’s confidence sky high. Getting to see them in person for the first time this past weekend, I can say that what Head Coach Hudson Friesen is selling, the players are buying. They’ve found enough offence when needed then have played lock down defense with outstanding goaltending as the cherry on top. With every season, there are new names people need to know and goalie William Desmarais is one that should leave opposing fans looking up at the ceiling and asking “how did that not go in?”. As Travis Hensrud of Steinbach who looked to have a wide-open net on Saturday night until Desmarais snatched it out of mid-air with a beautiful second effort glove save. Desmarais is the real deal.
Take 12: Being a brand-new franchise is never easy. Take into account it was a bit of a quick start up and there’s a global pandemic, things were a bit stacked up against the Winnipeg Freeze right off the hop. Even with all that, the Freeze don’t take games off. Josh Green is molding and developing his young team but it will take time and there will be some tough lessons along the way. Goaltender Will Gurski’s numbers don’t reflect just how good this 18-year-old is. He’s a legit stud between the pipes.
There are moments in a season that are bigger than hockey. More important that winning or losing. One of those moments is coming up in Portage on November 6th.
Geno Romanow, the longtime Terrier Trainer and Equipment Manager passed away suddenly in May. Geno was unlike any other. A true champion on and off the ice.
Prior to the game vs the Dauphin Kings at Stride Place, Geno will have a tribute video shown in his memory. A special touch by the Terriers to a man and family that has meant so much to the franchise over the years.
Lastly, I want to thank Erik Swar and Kevin Saurette from the MJHL for this opportunity. I am excited that we can look around the league and share thoughts about teams, players and more.