13 Takes with Dave Anthony | Week 20

Take 1: It’s that time of year that’s better than Christmas, back to school and second only to the start of the playoffs: It’s Commitment Season! Expect a wave of announcements from across the MJHL. Waywayseecappo’s Sean Williams announced his D1 commitment to Robert Morris University after his breakout season with the Wolverines.

The same day as Williams, Steinbach’s David Cote announced his D1 commitment to Union College after three seasons with the Pistons. Both players have had excellent seasons but really stood out during the MJHL/SJHL Showcase. Great to see two well deserving players and people get rewarded. Congratulations to both.

As the takes were ready to be released, Blizzard rookie goaltender, Tomas Anderson announced his D1 commitment to Niagara University. What an impressive season for the first year puck-stopper who has willed the Blizzard to some big wins this season.

Take 2: As great as it is for the player, having someone committed to the next level of their hockey and educational career is a great thing for the organization they represent. No matter where players go, they never forget what their MJHL team did for them. Ask Zach Whitecloud or Cole Smith, they’ll always be grateful for the doors the league helped open for them. Not just on the ice but looking at someone like Riley Kosmolak who’s working with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL or Harry Mahesh who’s now working with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, it shows the MJHL is not just players who can go anywhere but so can those around the game.

Take 3: Most of the time officials take the brunt of the team’s or fans’ frustrations but they’re not celebrated for doing a truly exceptional job. In my opinion, how a referee and linespersons can go about and beyond is with game management. Two examples I happened to see firsthand recently. The first happened in Dauphin where right in the first minute, there was a pair of penalties set to be called but then more players got into it with punches and wrestling matches. A stick to the face of a (cage-wearing) opponent caused more emotion and things boiled over. Once the situation cooled down, the officials huddled up to go over details and a notepad was being used to help sort out all the information. A few officials use a note pad and with how fast things happen, that can come in very handy. Things got sorted out and between making sure the correct calls were made and the time they took, things didn’t ramp up further. The second instance happened between Steinbach and Winkler where the officials did a masterful job of controlling the game, allowing both teams space to play hard, physical, playoff-style hockey with no ticky-tack calls slowing the game down. Both teams knew where the line was and respected it. It made for one of the fastest, most intense games this season. Controlling the game is an art, and these are just two examples of officials that are very good at it.

Take 4: It was tough to hear the news about Kelvin Cech being relieved of his duties by the Nighthawks. I was lucky to talk to Kelvin on multiple occasions about hockey, his passion for building the program, community work, and family. He was always generous with his time, and I know he’ll find success wherever his feet end up next. Maybe another tattoo will come out of it. The Nighthawks felt it was time for a change, a new voice and a new direction.

Take 5: There have been 45 empty net goals this season. The leader has 3. Tyson Draper of Virden has an empty netter in the only game he’s played, so he’s a goal per game forward in the MJHL! Last year, the leader in empty net goals had 6. 3 players had 3 while 12 players had 2. A very surprising 45 players had one empty net goal a year ago. The highest scoring forwards without an empty net goal were Swan Valley’s Tristan Keck and Neepawa’s Hayden Stocks, both scoring 31 times without one into a yawning cage. This year, the top 3 goal scorers have zero empty netters. The top 5 goal scorers have just 1 all together and the top 10 have a combined 3. I doubt we’re going to see coaches start practicing trying to clear the puck into the open net from the defensive zone.

Take 6: Have you ever had an idea where you were convinced it was great and should be implemented immediately only to come full circle when thinking about it for too long and realize it’s not even a good idea, let alone great, and shouldn’t be a part of hockey? Here is why I bring it up. For years I was convinced that when a team changes goalies in the middle of the game, that goalie should get a few warm-up shots to get into the game. Like how a relief pitcher gets to warm up after coming out of the bullpen. It makes sense, right? The guy’s been on the bench for the whole game, he’s got to come in cold, and his team might be rattled because they’re down or had their starter leave via injury, it makes perfect sense to let the captain or assistant go down with some pucks and get the guy warmed up a bit. That’s until you think about how coaches would use that to their advantage and completely ruin the spirit of it. I’m sure it would start out fine, but it wouldn’t take long until bench bosses used it as an unofficial time-out to slow down the other team’s momentum. You can just picture coaches changing twice, three times, or four times a game just because it buys them a few extra minutes of rest. Coaches are tasked to find an edge and if you give them an inch, they’ll try and take a mile if it means two points.

Take 7: It’s not only playoff hunting season, but also that wonderful time that teams have their traditional Family Skate after a home game. It’s always special to see players who are 17, 18, 19, or 20 years old out on the ice horsing around with either their billet families or others from around the community. Kids getting to be kids. Teams know how important it is and how much of a connection the players have to people who attend games. It could be 10 people or 100, whoever is out there skating around with their favorite MJHL team is going to remember it, and more than a few kids will grow up wanting to wear that jersey one day.

Take 8: Speaking of playoffs, it’s razor thin coming down the stretch and that makes for very entertaining hockey. Scoreboard watching is a national past time in late February and into March. Every year there are wild stories, like last year with the Oil Capitals. However, we all kind of slept on the Steelers and how good they were down the stretch last year. This year, it is similar. They haven’t come out of nowhere, they’ve been chugging along pretty much since they started the year 3-10. Sure, they needed some help from the team above them but that only does so much. They’ve been a very solid hockey team for months, earning the results and points they didn’t get early on. If they make it, and there is every chance they do, the focus may be on the team that fell out instead of the work the Steelers have done to stay competitive and stay in the fight, even when most counted them out. Selkirk has 10 games left and trails the final playoff spot by just 3 points. The team ahead of them has 10 games left, too. It really could all come down to March 8th in Niverville CRRC. Hope Kevin Pauls is working out his voice and jotting down stats because there will be lots of people paying attention to that game, especially if it stays as close as it is now.

Take 9: We’re lucky here in Manitoba, MJHL fans are great. There are some that go above and beyond, taking on a personality of their own. Of course, I’m talking about the Golden Boy in Portage. Speaking of Portage, I saw the Power Rankings this week and talk about a jam-job, yikes. Anyways, the Golden Boy is a must-see attraction. The outfit, the constant noise coming from his general section where he stands hammering the glass with his ring-filled hands, and the passion that is expelled with every bark. I’d like to see every team have someone like that and I’m here to help with ideas. I know Virden has Digger, Winkler with their bucket banging Gritty inspired individual, and Steinbach has their horse Clutch, they have mascots, so they’re fine. For the Blizzard, have two t-shirt-style cannons that are filled with snow, so fans experience a Blizzard when the team scores. In Dauphin, you have a king or queen of the game, give them a crown, a robe, and a scepter. Waywayseecappo, you have the Wolf, howling for every goal that goes up on the board. In Neepawa, you must have someone in full metal knights’ gear, horse optional. Niverville needs someone with hawk-like claws and big wings that flaps their arms like Angels in the Outfield (if you don’t know that movie, google it, it’s still pretty good, even to this day) and of course, Selkirk needs someone dressed in red with the helmet and all, banging a Steel hammer. There ya go teams, free ideas!

Take 10: It’s been done in years past where MJHL teams will go to minor hockey games, especially playoff games and I can’t wait to see more teams do it this year. Some teams should go the extra mile and be the 7th skater for their minor hockey-playing billet brother or sister. Get the whole team to the rink and have one of the guys go out, do a lap, stand on the line with the players playing for O’ Canada, do a fist bump, and skate off. MJHL 7th Skater jersey may be a bit tight for some of the massive mountains known as players, but they can tie it around their neck like a cape.

Take 11: From the start of last season to now, Virden’s Eric Reid has played 4,230 regular season minutes of hockey, which is about 3 days’ worth. Add in 470 from the playoff run and he’s going to surpass the 5,000-minute mark all combined this year. Dauphin’s Cole Sheffield is at 3,893 minutes (about 2 and a half days) this regular season paired with last. Winkler’s Malachi Klassen is sitting at 3,857 minutes, Steinbach’s Cole Plowman at 3,525 and counting, while Portage goalie Jayden Catellier is at 3,409 minutes.

Take 12: Hitting the 50-point plateau is an accomplishment for any MJHL player but especially when you’re a rookie. The crop this year will have a hard time matching the 4 guys who hit the mark last year, (Stocks from Neepawa, Luke Janus from the Blues, Carter Cormier of Selkirk, and Brendan Bottem from Niverville). Two years ago, only one player hit the 50-point mark. Before that, excluding the season cut short, 3 players did it including Luke Beerman (great name) of Swan Valley. More elite young players will have a chance to make an impact in the league, so it’s not hard to look into the future and think there could be more and more first-year guys scoring 50-plus points. Not if the high-caliber, Division-1-level goaltenders in our league have anything to say about it, though. Think it bothers goalies more giving up a goal to a rookie over a veteran? I’m sure it doesn’t matter who gets the goal, the goalie won’t be doing a happy dance about it.

Take 13: Finally, want to give a shoutout to a group of people at most hockey games that are very important but, like a firework, shine bright during a quick, limited interaction and then go about their business. The 50-50 sellers. Walking around, sometimes in pairs, sometimes on their own, grinding away to get people in on the draw that could win them hundreds and in some MJHL rinks, thousands. The other half usually goes to the home team, sometimes they’ll donate it to different causes or organizations, which means a lot to those programs. 50-50 sellers take it seriously, they want to have the biggest jackpots for their rink. Some are easier to get off their wallet than others, but all the volunteers do a great job. I don’t think they ever get a tip from whomever wins but instead of money, we can give them something no 50-50 winning amount can buy, a big ol’ thank you!