2022 has come to a close. Amazing to think how we started the year with pandemic restrictions, unsure of what would need to be done just to play. The players, staff and volunteers around the MJHL made it all possible by doing whatever it took. As we get into 2023, here’s a possible goal for each team going forward.
Take 1: Steinbach Pistons – Finish first overall in the MJHL. Steinbach would love to have home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a hard building for other teams to play in. That being said, Steinbach feels confident their team can play in any rink across the province. First three games out of the holiday break are at home to Winkler, home to Winkler and on the road in Portage. Massive implications in the standings right out of the gate. It’s the final year for the old building and they’d like nothing more than to send it off in style.
Take 2: OCN Blizzard – Finish first in the MGEU West Division. Having home ice advantage is always big but if OCN can make it out of the first round and host an Eastern team in round two, having the travel advantage early could really be a series tone setter. They also start 2023 with 6-straight home games. With game breakers, solid goaltending and strong coaching, the Blizzard are primed to make 2023 special.
Take 3: Portage Terriers – Be ready for Centennial Cup. Portage is the unique place of knowing they’re building to compete at the Centennial Cup while other teams are looking to win the league then compete for the national title. They want to win the league, of course, that goes without saying. They do know there is a tomorrow after the league championship and they want to be ready. They’ve hosted and won before and I don’t know how many teams can say they’ve done it twice, but it can’t be many. Portage wants to be on that list.
Take 4: Swan Valley Stampeders – Win the first round of the playoffs. It’s going to be a dogfight for positioning in the MGEU West Division. The Stamps have shown they have what it takes to be in the top tier of that division. While their seeding is far from set, they have to feel confident going into any matchup. A first-round playoff win could be the start of something magical. Home ice in that first round would be ideal but the effort level and desire to win will travel if it has to.
Take 5: Winkler Flyers – Make the MJHL Finals. It’s been far too long for the storied franchise to have been one of the last two teams standing. 2002 was the last time they were there. This team feels like it can be the team to get over the hump. With the blend of experience and youth, the Flyers have a chance to make it all the way to the last dance. Once you’re in the finals, anything can happen. They’ll look to bring the first championship back to Winkler since 1998.
Take 6: Waywayseecappo Wolverines – Make it to the MJHL Finals. Waywayseecappo has felt like they were right on the edge of greatness the past few seasons. This year, they’ll look to take the biggest step. They have elite game breakers so they’re always dangerous upfront. The key this year is they have the depth to get over when things tighten up in the playoffs. 7 of their top 8 scorers are 20-year-olds plus a goalie tied for the MJHL lead in wins.
Take 7: Niverville Nighthawks – Win the first round of the playoffs. As a first-year team, some may have been caught by surprise with the success of Niverville early on. They are not surprising anyone anymore. They are legit and they have been for a few weeks already. The Nighthawks have what it takes to play any style of game which comes in handy come the post-season. They will be the underdogs in round one and that’s exactly the way they like it. They’re daring teams and fans to count them out. That’s when they strike. It’s gone beyond making the playoffs, it’s become making a whole lot of noise once they begin.
Take 8: Dauphin Kings – Finish top 2 in the division host the first round of playoffs. Step one will be having round one, game one at Credit Union Place. Once that goal is achieved, the defending champs can go from there. They have had a lot of roster turnover from last year’s squad but the coaching staff has instilled what it takes to make it to the top. If they can make it to one of the top two positions in the division, they’ll have as good a chance as anyone to go the distance.
Take 9: Winnipeg Blues – Make a push for the playoffs and learn from the journey. They are far from out of the playoff picture but regardless of where they finish, the Blues have a young group that will learn from the experience of playing meaningful games into 2023. The more they can pressure the teams ahead of them, the more the crop coming back next year will get out of it. Wouldn’t it be something if the final game of their regular season, March 17th against Niverville had everything on the line?
Take 10: Neepawa Titans – Make the playoffs. In a loaded MGEU West Division, the Titans have proven they can hang. They are scratching at the playoff door. Throughout the last three months of the regular season, they only play a divisional opponent 4 times. With so many matchups against the East and so few against teams directly ahead of them, points by any means will be the name of the game. With so many playoff-like tests, should the Titans find a way in, they could be a very dangerous team to run up against.
Take 11: Selkirk Steelers – Get in or at least get close to the playoffs. It wasn’t a great start to the season for the Steelers. The early struggles set them back but they’ve fought hard to get back into the conversation. They have a tall task to catch the teams ahead of them but if they can find a way to do it or even get close, it will really help going into next year when some key players will look to take a big step and make the Steelers dangerous again.
Take 12: Virden Oil Capitals – Get out of the MGEU West basement. It’s been a tough season to this point for the Oil Caps but with the turn of the calendar, they can turn it all around and find positives. They have to feel as though their best hockey is ahead of them. A tough road trip to start the new year could be exactly what they need to pull together as a group and fight their way out of that last spot in the division.
Take 13: Winnipeg Freeze – Win 8 more games this season. Getting to 10 wins on the year can be achievable for the Freeze. They’ve been in a lot of games right up until the end. If they can find a way to play a solid 60 minutes, they can scratch and claw to get to double digit wins and play a little spoiler at the same time.
Bonus Take: This is for the entire league. Keep developing players to the next level. From NCAA Division 1 and 3 to university programs and beyond to pro, the MJHL has its fingerprints all over leagues across the hockey world. It used to be cool to hear a player from the MJHL has moved on to the higher levels, but now it’s no surprise. It’s something that continues to trend up and shows no signs of slowing down. MJHL alumni are doing great things.