Take 1 – This might be the most exciting time to be an MJHL fan and supporter. Every year it feels like every team has a chance to make some noise but this year, that’s especially true. The parity in the league, the talent that’s come in from not just Manitoba but from all over will keep the MJHL in the center of promoting players to the next levels. It’s going to be a great year and I can’t wait to look back and see just how much talent was in the league all at the same time.
Take 2 – There isn’t as much player movement in the summer as there used to be but there are some guys that will have fans saying “oh, he’s with so-and-so now, didn’t know that”. Brandon Funk is now with Steinbach. Neo Kiemeney is with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines. Parker Korman and Nathan Lenoski are with Portage. Keegan Gordon will man the crease for the Nighthawks. Winkler added Brandt Young. Dauphin snagged Naaman Hofer. There’s probably a few I’m missing still but the point is, fans will get a chance to cheer for some players they maybe cheered against last year.
Take 3 – A couple of teams have moved places. Not franchise re-location or anything, just have different homes. The Steinbach Pistons have moved down the road to La Broquerie for the season while the new Southeast Events Centre is under construction, OCN has gone to the Roy H. Johnston Arena. Both Winnipeg clubs will be playing out of the Hockey For All Centre this season. That’s just this year, perhaps next year a few more teams will be having to readjust their home games due to some exciting projects coming.
Take 4 – 5 Manitobans were selected in the inaugural Professional Womens Hockey League Draft. Jocelyne Larocque, Ashton Bell, Kristen Campbell, Kati Tobin and Corinne Schroeder had their names called out during what was an incredible event. Major sponsors and television support gives the PWHL an opportunity to showcase the amazing talent in Women’s hockey. Young women will have more opportunities as players, coaches, front office staff, broadcasters, scouts and support staff. It’s not often you watch something and know what you’re seeing is history. Follow along on social media with the likes of Scott Taylor or Carter Brooks who will always keep us informed with what Manitoba players are doing but also Hailey Salvian and Kenzie Lalonde talking about the whole PWHL.
Take 5 – Blake Spiller is on the verge of setting the record for all-time wins as a head coach in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Spiller is first listed with the Terriers as an Assistant Coach in the 2001-2002 season. He took over head coaching in 2006-2007. This year is his 17th behind the bench. He’s always quick to praise the organization, the people he’s worked with, the players who have been a part of the program and the fan support before accepting any type of personal accolade. Portage as a franchise knows how-to put-on events so when the time comes, I’d bet there’s something special. Blake Spiller to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame is going to happen. He’s not going to be going anywhere for a while, which is great for Portage and the MJHL.
Take 6 – If it’s this weekend or next week, whenever your team’s home opener is, head on down! Home openers are so special. For the players, to have a packed building and hearing the cheers first when they’re announced and then for when they have on-ice success, it’s something they don’t forget. Ask a former MJHL’er, they remember what it’s like. For volunteers that put in so much effort and the team’s staff that work tirelessly, they want to share that hard work with fans. If you’re a long time fan, you know. If you’re new to the MJHL experience, go fall in love with the atmosphere, the game, the team. Like I said earlier, every team has a chance to do something special. The first game celebration means something. Be there.
Take 7 – An early shoutout to photographers across the MJHL. So many highly skilled people put in a lot of effort to not only be at MJHL games but take incredible photos which they then post. I hear from families across the league just how much it means to them to see their boys doing what they love to do in an MJHL sweater. Take time to thank a photographer and if you’re going to use or share their photos, tag them, use their name and let people know who they are. Photographer credit is the very least we can do for the dedicated people behind the lens capturing moments the rest of us can’t take our eyes off of.
Take 8 – NHL main camps are opening and there’s a noticeable growth in how many people or players have MJHL connections. Briley Wood is top of mind, but many more made great impacts at NHL Development Camps throughout the summer that the list of players with MJHL ties is going to get longer and longer every year.
Take 9 – Already we’ve seen pictures of players getting out in their respective communities and making a positive impact. It can be quite something for new players to the league but for guys who are returning, it’s something they all look forward to. Volunteering in schools, helping at charity fundraisers or simply wearing a team’s jersey to interact with fans can make someone a fan for life.
Take 10 – Many fans already know but full cages or “bubbles” as the clear ones are referred to, will be slowly worked in across the country, including the MJHL. Some players who didn’t have to do it last year, will have to this year. I’m sure everyone has an opinion on it. Players and fans will get used to it. More players are committing to NCAA Div-1 programs, and they wear full shields. I see both sides to the argument and it’s happening so getting into a back and forth is pointless. I will say cutting down on severe cuts or lost teeth will make parents happy. Just got to hope players don’t think they can be careless with their sticks, especially around the head.
Take 11 – Fans across the league, I’m really hopeful that your teams have put some thought into creating some fun intermission games. Obviously, some places can do more than others, but whether it’s an on-ice game during the break or taking a microphone into the stands or even just tossing out free stuff, fans love it. A big reason why those things happen though is because of sponsors. The business community steps up and makes fun happen at games. The more business support, the more great things fans get to experience. If businesses support your team, support them. It’s a two-way street that opens a lot of creative possibilities where everyone, business/team/fans win.
Take 12 – Pundits Pick’Em’s are back! Oh, what conversations those bring up. I suggest getting a group text going with your friends and try as well. It’s harder than you think. They’ll be coming out on the MJHL website as we try and nail down the Friday night games throughout the year. There might also be more than bragging rights on the line. More on that in the weeks to come!
Take 13 – There’s so much young talent in the MJHL this year, every Takes, we’ll focus on one player from one of the teams. To start with, here’s one player from each team to keep an eye on now or for the future.
Dauphin – 2006 born forward Havryil Simchuk
Neepawa – 2005 born forward Kyle Weisgarber
Niverville – 2006 born forward Nathan Brown
OCN – 2005 born forward Ashton Cuvelier
Portage – 2005 born defenseman Brett Magarrell
Selkirk – 2006 born forward Dawson Dear
Steinbach – 2005 born defenseman Liam Doyle
Swan Valley – 2005 born goaltender Elias Giaccari-Dimitriou
Virden – 2006 born forward Bryce Bryant
Waywayseecappo – 2005 born forward Ben Roulette
Winkler – 2006 born forward Marek Miller
Winnipeg Blues – 2007 born forward Brody Green
Winnipeg Freeze – 2006 born forward Elliot Perreault