Take 1: Big congratulations to Blake Spiller. His name now sits alone atop the list of winningest coaches with 671 MJHL regular season wins. Blake is always quick to say this milestone could not have been reached without some incredible players, the support from the Terriers organization and the fans in Portage. We should thank Cody Buhler as well, if not for him, Blake might have been perfectly content not having anything announced and just continue to go about his business. When the time comes and hopefully it’s year and years down the road, with all due respect to the current name sake, the MJHL will need to seriously consider changing it to the Blake Spiller Coach of the Year award.
Take 2: The long-anticipated MJHL rosters for the upcoming MJ/SJ Showcase were released this week. It’s hard not to get excited when you see the talent that’s going to be put together for these upcoming games at the end of the month. It’s a great thing the leagues do to promote players, have scouts come to see talent in person and make no mistake about it, battle for bragging rights. Both leagues want to win. This isn’t going to be an All-Star skate, it’s going to be fast-paced, hard checking, edge of your seat action for two straight days. Go to MJHLHockey.ca for info on ticket packages.
Take 3: Sticking with the Showcase, there’s always going to be limited roster spots at something like this. Talking to a couple of coaches from around the league, they know there’s going to be players that could or should be going but just can’t because it’s a numbers game. For those players, it’s important to remember that every game in the MJHL is a showcase. More scouts and programs from all levels are watching than ever before (note to broadcasters, too). Scouts are looking for more than flash and dash, they’re looking for good team guys, guys who do the grunt work that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet. It’s generic coach speak but it’s so true, keep doing what you’re doing, keep playing your game and helping the team find success and the rest will fall into place.
Take 4: The CJHL Trade Deadline has come and gone. Big time shoutout to Benny Walchuk who did an amazing job again this year keeping all the trade details together in one place. I refreshed WALCHUK’S WORLD (bennywalchuk.blogspot.com) constantly! It’s THE place for MJHL/SJHL trade deadline coverage. There were more moves than I expected, that’s for sure. There’s always a couple of guys you’d never expect to be moved that go on that day. The biggest moves prior to the deadline included a pair of former Stampeders in Jakob Jones going to Winkler, and Trey Sauder landing to the Pistons. The biggest team surprises are all the moves Portage made and the tough decisions the Dauphin Kings made, moving some veterans but finding ways to win. Niverville being bold is great. Virden tinkered, while the Blizzard, Winkler, and Waywayseecappo addressed some key needs. Neepawa sticking with and believing in what they have is awesome. As a fan, I’m all for trades and teams either loading up for the present or gearing up for the future.
Take 5: Often with the trade deadline, we can focus on the additions and not always focus on how those additions come. Swan Valley had a big deadline because of the veterans they moved out. I wonder if Barry Wolff is enjoying his phone not ringing constantly or if he’s a little lonely because he was the most popular call in the MJHL there for a while. I’ve always had a ton of respect for Barry. He’s a genuinely good guy and a great coach. Everyone you talk to always has positive things to say about him. It couldn’t have been easy saying goodbye to so many guys he helped build up over the years through the program. With that said, you don’t get wins for being a good guy. It’s now on him to build up the next chapter of the Stampeders. Some young guys will get a chance, there are opportunities for players outside the organization to look at it and see that there are prime spots available. The future of the Stamps is in good hands, but those hands have some big-time work to do.
Take 6: The Winkler Flyers have great crowds pretty much every home game. It’s a tough place to play, especially when the crowd is buzzing. They took it to a whole other level when they teamed up with a sponsor to give 600 tickets away to Winkler and area youth. In total, 1200 people took in the Flyers home game. Hat tip to Tyler Hildebrand for being instrumental in pulling it all off. He said the energy was amazing and he loved seeing the wave go around the building.
Take 7: The Blizzard are doing some great things in and for the community. The move in the Roy H. Johnston has been great for everyone and it’s been amazing to see the support continue to grow. The team is always quick to give back and they’ve had some great experiences skating with the U7 teams recently. There’s something pure about big kids skating with maybe future MJHL stars. Parents always beam when talking about how their kids appreciate the time the players give. It’s not all about the kids. There is plans for a specialty Beer Night on January 25th for grownups! Get more info by checking out the Blizzard pages on social media. Please plan a safe ride home from the game, I haven’t asked but I’m pretty sure using the team bus to drive people home after is NOT an option.
Take 8: The MJHL and its teams cannot run without billets. It’s a key, key part to the whole operation. From long time billets to new to billeting this year, it’s all so appreciated. The players become like family in a lot of cases. It’s not just the players, but the players’ families become like family to the billets. Teams may be looking for billets already for next year. If you’ve never billeted before, talk to someone who is and they’ll tell you, you’re missing out by not. Contact the team in your community and get all the information you need.
Take 9: A few weeks back, we included in the Takes details about officials when it comes to kicking players out of faceoffs. I’ve been watching closer based off the details provided and it’s all very consistent. Wingers or defenders cannot jump in early. There can be no advantage to either team. One thing though, if you want to make it a fair draw, drop the puck quicker! I don’t so doing a fake drop accomplishes anything other than slowing things down and forcing someone else to take what could be an important faceoff. I’d like to see both guys ready at the dot, ref with the puck, drop it and go. If one guy isn’t ready, too bad. Give an indication they should be ready, drop it and off we go. Again, easy for me to say sitting safely off the ice. It’s not my hands, shins or skates being slashed by wild hockey players trying to get puck control.
Take 10: Amy Martin has done some big-time events and great things as an official. I imagine being part of the January 6th PWHL game between Montreal and Minnesota must be close to the top of the list. The PWHL has done an amazing job so far. The games have been well attended and to have games on TV is special. From players to coaches to broadcasters to officials, many doors are opening in front of many eyes. For Amy, it’s another example of where hockey roads can lead. She’s a terrific example to other young women who love officiating and now can see a road to doing it a professional level. Support the PWHL by cheering for a team, a player or simply for the league.
Take 11: Recently, a player was assessed an “illegal equipment” penalty. Originally, I didn’t know what that meant but I talked to the penalty box volunteer after the game, and he said the official explained it very clearly. It had to do with the mouthguard. Wearing a mouthguard only helps a player when it’s in the player’s mouth. Too often you can see players with it hanging out or chewing on it. It doesn’t do much good. So, it seems the league has mandated a bit of a crackdown on mouthguards. It’s hard to know where players get the habit of chewing on it versus keeping it in place to protect against concussions and dental trips. I blame Matthew Tkachuk.
Take 12: In talking with Michael Gerl, the Winnipeg Blues and Freeze official broadcast manager, he’s been hyping up his annual CanPlay Hockey Classic which is coming up Saturday. There will be a bunch of great hockey to watch, a silent auction, a 50-50, and some great fundraising options. The event is to support the Children’s Rehabilitation Foundation. Michael works as hard as anyone but has challenges few will ever understand. His love of hockey, building community, promoting players, and broadcasting is truly amazing. This year, funds raised will be dedicated to purchasing specialized recreation equipment for children and youth living with disabilities. Check out his social media for details on the upcoming event and how to donate.
Take 13: I was lucky to join Kevin Pauls in Niverville for a game this past weekend and before puck drop, we were standing at the railing in the CRRC talking, going over numbers and player facts when we both kind of stopped, and looked around and remarked how many road fans were at the game. We both talked about how many dedicated fans from across the MJHL travel in all conditions to support their team in person. Year after year, fans’ love grows. It’s truly special to see people make their way out, supporting the MJHL across the province. Every rink in the MJHL has its own heartbeat, its own soul. Keep going to the ones around you but also take some time, get a group together, and make a weekend going either north or south. Experience Swan Valley or La Broquerie while the Pistons are there. See what the buzz is like in Winkler or the history showcased in Portage and Dauphin. Go to Waywayseecappo or Neepawa and see how much work they’ve put into making it their respective home. Talk to the amazing volunteers in The Pas or Virden, people who work tirelessly promoting their team at games and behind the scenes. Make a stop at and live the excitement of CRRC in Niverville. Check out all the action always going on at the Hockey For All Centre and certainly experience a game in Selkirk where there’s not a bad seat in the rink to watch a game.
If you know, then you know. If you don’t, this is the year to go because the experience is great but the talent in the MJHL, specifically this year, makes it almost a guaranteed good time.