Take 1: The final month of the regular season is upon us. How is it that it’s felt like a long year yet at the same time, feels like just yesterday we started? Playoff positioning is still up in the air. Scoreboard watching this time of year is going to be insane. It’s always fun but when the races are this close, it’s even better.
Take 2: The Winnipeg based teams have been going through a tough stretch. The Blues have lost four in a row, 9 of their last 10 and fallen out of the playoff picture. The Freeze picked up a massive win over Swan Valley but their season has been a struggle to say the least. I will say it is great to have both Winnipeg teams back in the Hockey For All Centre. It’s an excellent hub for hockey. Sure, the Blues have just one game there, but it counts!
Take 3: Broadcaster for the Nighthawks Lua Pauls had quite the experience back on Sunday. She joined the Winnipeg Jets broadcasters during a game. The NextGen concept is brilliant. Having kids be a part of the organization for a day, it’s really special. Lua’s dad Kevin couldn’t have been prouder. Lua has worked really hard and she’s got a bright future in hockey. Congrats, Lua. Just do people like me and your dad a favour, let us keep our gigs for a little while longer before you take over.
Take 4: Things are cookin’ for the Stampeders lately. Not just Collin Jennings, who’s on absolute fire, but around the team as well. It was rare to have an MJHL game played in the afternoon of a week day but watching the highlights, seemed like a great turnout and LOUD. I hope more teams do a Student Game in the future. Also, WCGtv put on a pair of games on their local channel. I hope the MJHL and teams can find a way to do more of that. Live games on a local channel could be the next big move for the league.
Take 5: Put me down as someone who counted out the Neepawa Titans. I’ll go sit down and be quiet for a bit. What a game vs the Nighthawks. Hayden Stocks leads rookies in goals with 25, Briely Wood is second in points per game at 1.41 and I haven’t met anyone that has a bad thing to say about Ken Pearson. Many people are pulling for Neepawa and although the odds may be long, there’s always still a chance until there isn’t.
Take 6: The OCN Blizzard are upping the game when it comes to social media content. They’ve got episodes of player profiles which are hosted by the players! You want to see some of the guys let their personalities shine, this is the way to do it. Some guys are used to being interviewed, the questions are routine and they usually know what’s coming. When it’s teammates, all things are off the table and there’s guaranteed to be some laughter. Great job by the Blizzard to showcase what they’ve got going on off the ice.
Take 7: If you had to pick right now, which three players should be considered the MJHL MVP, who would you pick? There’s only room for three so a couple of quality, well-deserving players are going to be left off, much to the dismay of their respective fan bases. Lucas Brennan and Ty Smith are 1 and 2 in league scoring respectively, but what if they miss the playoffs? Selkirk can still make it and if they do, those two will be a major reason why. But, does it take them out of the running if they don’t make it in?
My pick is Hensrud. He does it all. Power play, penalty kill and special teams. When he’s on and he’s on a lot, he’s a special, special player. Steinbach has helped him develop into a complete hockey player, a leader off the ice and in the community and someone Northern Michigan is going to really enjoy having in their program.
Take 8: I was in Waywayseecappo last week and got to talking with a man who’s worked at the rink for 20 plus years. He was telling me stories about the older days, the struggles the team went through. What it means to the community to still have the team and how proud they are of what they’ve done the last few years. He spoke highly of Erik Swar for the work he did and he loves the group that is there now. Sometimes we hyper-focus on results and forget the paths that helped get teams to where they are now. It was a great reminder of where teams can start and an example of, when you have people who truly love the team, what they can do to help build it up. Shout out to Matthew Higgs, too. Keep up the great work.
Take 9: It would be an extreme disappointment for the Virden Oil Capitals to miss the playoffs. Let that sink in. They’ve battled all the way back to not only be in the middle of the pack in the MGEU West but they’ve put themselves in a position where they are now expected to make the post-season. Not many outside of Virden thought that would be the case. Great fan support, one of the best buildings in the league, and awesome volunteers all being rewarded with some top-notch, must-watch hockey. The Oil Caps have kind of been that team you’ve always expected to do well. Maybe this year, when the expectations were lower, is the year they get over the hump. They’ve got something magical going.
Take 10: On the other hand, there’s the Dauphin Kings. Only four teams are going to make it in the MGEU West, that means two teams are going to miss. Would it be a massive disappointment to miss the playoffs or does the championship last year buy a little grace? Dauphin’s right in it, so don’t think this is a eulogy in any way. The Kings could go on a run and not just get into the post-season but push all the way to the dance again. They’re that talented of a team. Amazing how in a year starts so many games but it can all come down a single digit number of contests that can make or break your season.
Take 11: All signs are pointing to a Steinbach vs Winkler first-round matchup. Neither team likes the other. Neither fan base likes the other. It will be a must-watch series that could have a little bit of everything. As exciting as it is to see the standings in the MGEU West change on a day-by-day basis, there’s something just as exciting when it comes to knowing those two long-standing rivals are going to face off in a grudge match for the ages. Let’s make a deal though… Steinbach will get a new, bigger rink if Winkler will outlaw airhorns. Deal?
Take 12: Portage is a wagon. They have scored 7 or more goals 8 times this year. Twice in the span of less than a month, they’ve hit double digits in a single game. They haven’t given up more than 2 goals since February 12th and that includes three consecutive shutouts.
Take 13: I’ve been very lucky in my time in the MJHL to speak with some amazing people in the sports world. Recently, I spoke with Jamie Campbell of Blue Jays Central, he’s selling some old memorabilia and donating the proceeds to charities. By chance, he picked one in Steinbach. We talked about his passion for giving back and he gave some encouraging words to those working or volunteering in organizations. I also got to speak with former Winnipeg Jet Ray Neufeld. He and his sister were honored by the Jets recently as part of Black History Month. Ray spoke about his time in Winkler, his experiences in hockey, and where the game needs to keep growing. He talked about not always being negative and focusing on communication on top of education. Ray cares deeply about the game and loves seeing how much communities love their teams. He’s always willing to talk with teams, communities, or players about anything, even “the trade” as some Jets fans may remember it. Those are just two recent examples of people who have a platform, using it for continued good.