Take 1: This team won their first 4 games of the season. Followed it up by losing 4 of 5. In the basement of the Division through much of the first half. Score just 14 goals in December. Turn the calendar to 2023 and now are 13 – 2. Most wins in the MGEU West. 55 points which is tied for 2nd place as of Thursday morning.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Virden Oil Capitals.
Stat that surprises me the most is that they have the second worst goals differential at –8. With all due respect to the other great coaches in the MJHL, Tyson Ramsey is my MJHL Coach of the Year if Virden gets into the playoffs, let alone if they lock down home ice in round one.
Take 2: The only bigger surprise than Virden to this point has to be the Selkirk Steelers. Just four points back of a playoff spot. Remember, they started the year 0-11. They didn’t win their first game until October 19th. Even after that win they went on to lose 4 in a row. Selkirk is a storied franchise with a rich history and if this team manages to get into the playoffs and make even just a little bit of noise when they’re there, they’d have to go down as one most celebrated Steelers teams of recent memory. The players have done their part, it’s up to the fans and business community to step up and show them some much deserved love.
Take 3: It’s great to see so many teams promoting the accomplishments of their players at the AAA level. Fans can learn a little bit about who’s coming down the pipeline and its free content to share on social media. I’d like to see all teams do a Prospect Profile once every couple of weeks. Gives fans a chance to learn, it would be a thrill for the players involved and gives nosey people like me a chance to see what other teams think of their prospects.
Take 4: I know that protecting players is very important. I just worry we’re going too far in the opposite direction and eventually body contact will be taken out of Junior A hockey. Bigger players shouldn’t be penalized for being big. Smaller players are going to get hit, it happens. It’s not breaking news. They know it and many welcome it. They are not afraid to engage and pay the price. There needs to be a clearer outline of what is legal and illegal and it can’t go strictly by the letter of the rule. There needs to be some room for movement from situation to situation. Otherwise, every player who runs into or gets run into by someone not as tall or as big will be spending too much time either in the penalty box or in the stands watching. It’s not a perfect system and it’s a very tough needle to thread. ‘
Take 5: February is I Love to Read Month and lots of players have been going out to schools and reading to classrooms. Check out the MJHL on social media to see pictures from many of the teams. To the players, the kids really enjoy it, the parents get a kick out of it but it’s the teachers who get a bit of a break from the craziness of being a teacher that thank you the most.
Take 6: While things haven’t gone as planned on the ice in the standings, the Blues have to be thrilled with the major announcements coming out of the program of late. Luke Janus and Brandon Funk announced their commitments to NCAA D1 programs while Thomas Kaufield announced his D3 commitment. Congrats to all three players who will go on do great things and always have their roots planted in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Take 7: There are many moments throughout the year where MJHL teams and players give back. With a lot of minor hockey seasons winding down or playoffs even under way, here’s a push to get some of the guys out in their jersey’s cheering on minor hockey teams in their community. Be at the tunnel for a fist bump on their way out to the ice, cheer for a goal or a save or heck, make of MJHL players the flag bearer for a minor hockey game!
Take 8: Across the MJHL, teams are having their fundraising banquets or gala’s. It’s a terrific way for businesses to show support by attending or even getting a table and sending their employees for a nice night out. Billets, fans, volunteers all come out and I can’t tell you how much that support means to those that put the events on. Teams and the people behind the scenes work really hard to put on a great event and they all do such a wonderful job. Great guests, too! One idea going forward which I’m stealing from the Toronto Maple Leafs, get the players to read lines from famous movies like Titanic or Slapshot. Let the guys have some fun and let their personalities shine and for some of the quieter players, it might be the most fans have ever heard them speak!
Take 9: We have to be getting close to the MJHL award nominees being announced. It’s always a hot button topic. It’s not an easy thing to do, narrow down the list of great athletes to just 3 for each category. I’m a big believer in team awards done after the year. For the staff of the teams to take time to recognize players, it’s a really good thing. Players get votes or fans have their say, it’s a fun way to wrap up the season and say goodbye to those players graduating or moving on to other programs.
Take 10: Swan Valley is auctioning off their Hockey is for Everyone jerseys after their game on the 22nd. Follow them on Twitter @SVStampeders for more details. It’s a really great idea and fans from Swan Valley or around the MJHL should look at getting their hands on the very well-designed jersey.
Take 11: By the time you read this, there may be a new team in first place in the MGEU West Division. How great is it that it’s coming right down to the wire? Everyone around the league is talking about it. It has to feel like playoffs have already started for them. It’s a must win every night. It will be really interesting to see which teams can keep the momentum going once the dance does start and which team has fired all their shots just to get in and has nothing left in the tank come round one. Not every Cinderella story has a happy ending.
Take 12: Random baseball take but in the category of You Heard It Hear First: The Toronto Blue Jays are going to win the AL East Division. For Ken Pearson, the Rays will finish 3rd behind the Yankees but well clear of the Red Sox and Baltimore.
Take 13: Sad note to end on but the passing of Paul Jerrard hit many across hockey, especially in Manitoba. The measure of someone’s legacy can be viewed by what’s said after their gone. Paul was very well respected by many and his passing prompted many to tell stories, share thoughts, and simply say just how much he meant to them.