Take 1 – The MJHL Showcase has come and gone. What a fun three days at the Seven Oaks Sports Plex. The crowds were great, the games were great for the most part, and it went really smoothly. Most of the people I talked to really liked the venue. It’s a great place to have an event like that, with two sheets of ice, lots of dressing rooms and good seats. It was pretty cold at times, though.
Take 2 – Aside from the venue, the biggest take away from talking with the players was getting to meet and see scouts face-to-face. That was huge for the guys. Being seen on video is one thing and it’s a fantastic resource but there’s nothing quite like having actual eyes on a player. So much about hockey is now IQ based, how to read a play and then react. For players to have a chance to show that off to in-person scouts and then talk to them after, that’s great. It was well attended by scouts as well, which is excellent for the league.
Take 3 – The next big Showcase for players is the MJHL vs SJHL event coming up on January 30th and 31st. I wouldn’t think the teams will be announced until early January but that’s good, gives some guys more runway to earn a spot. Again, talking to a number of players, they have that circle as something they want to be a part of. Don’t think they’re treating it like an All-Star game, either. The MJHL wants to win. Many of the guys who will be taking part this year were there last year. They learned that it’s not something to be taken lightly. They’ll be ready and want to show well against the other prairie league. In short – Game On.
Take 4 – Teams across the MJHL do such a great job with their social media accounts these days. Halloween is a great time to share pictures of the players dressed up volunteering, going trick or treating with their billet families or just having a team get-together. So often during the season, we forget these are 16–20-year-old kids and Halloween is a great reminder that there’s so much more to an MJHL season than hockey.
Take 5 – How about the Winnipeg Freeze? 3 wins in their last 5 games. Last season, they waited until January 20th, a span of 37 games to hit the 3-win mark. I chatted with Captain, Elliott Perreault at the Showcase but also on the way out of the rink after the game against the Blues. He couldn’t have been prouder of the way his team battled in those back-to-back wins and he said it was a long time coming. The Freeze won just 4 games last year. The year before that, 10.
Take 6 – Steinbach’s 2005-born Grady Hoffman has jumped to the top of the Rookie Scoring lead. He has 10 goals this year with 2 coming on the power play and 2 short-handed. His 10 goals in 10 games would make Vic Hadfield proud. *That is a reference to the old New York Rangers forward who was part of the GAG line (goal a game) back in the day. If you don’t know, look him up and while you’re doing that, go over the 1972 Summit Series.
Take 7 – The goaltending in the Manitoba Junior Hockey league just gets better and better every year. Looking at all the tandems over the Showcase or even just glancing at the numbers on the MJ website, there’s a great mix of young and veteran. Second-year Kings netminder, Cole Sheffield (’04) in Dauphin is undefeated at 9-0, Malachi Klassen (’03) in Winkler is off to a strong start and earned his D1 Commitment to Holy Cross, and 17-year-old Raiden LeGall (’06) in Niverville is turning heads with his impressive play, just to name a few.
Take 8 – I bumped into a couple of officials on different occasions and talked about refs falling. The crowd gets a kick out of it and sometimes, so do the other officials. There was a scary moment during the Showcase though and it’s one of those instances where it could have been much, much worse. Thankfully, the guy was okay and could smile about it after the game. I’ll tell you though, it was one of those things where it could have had a different ending. I’m sure the reaction is to joke about it but take a moment to make sure the official is laughing too before you start.
Take 9 – A huge shoutout to Blues Head Coach/General Manager, Alex Mandolidis and Virden Oil Capitals Assistant Coach, Curtis Brolund who helped guide Team Manitoba to a gold medal performance at the 2023 WHL Cup in Red Deer, Alberta. The win was Manitoba’s first ever at the WHL Cup, a job well done.
Take 10 – Mandolidis was also named an Assistant Coach on the staff for Team Canada West ahead of the World Junior A Challenge in Truro, Nova Scotia next month. Nighthawks Head Coach/General Manager, Kelvin Cech will join Mandolidis as an Assistant Coach on Team Canada West. Hoping to see a few MJHL’ers on this years roster.
Take 11 – Two thoughts in one: Massive boost for the Neepawa Titans having Hayden Stocks back in the fold. He’s a dynamic scoring machine and he’s going to help them big time. Also, with so many new players in the MJHL, first Jr A goals have happened a lot but watch the MJHL highlights for the goal from the Blues Evan Lambert. That is the kind of first goal a player dream’s about!
Take 12 – Congratulations to Josh Miko of Winnipeg who has been selected to work the World U17 Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown and Summerside. Also, former Neepawa, Winkler, and Piston’s goalie Corey Koop is on that list as well. Many former MJHL players have gotten into officiating. Great way to stay involved in the game and you just never know when you’ll get selected to work some amazing events. I hope more young hockey players get into officiating during the season.
Take 13 – Neck guards. The word has come up a lot and many leagues and players at all levels are taking a serious look at making them mandatory. The WHL has announced already they’re doing it. NHL players have started, and it probably won’t be long until they’re in effect across hockey at all levels. Minor hockey has always had them, not sure why it became less important the older players got. Some will have to adjust while others will not notice anything different. I don’t think this will be like full-face protection, it won’t be grandfathered in. It’s going to happen all at once. It’s good, it makes players safer. But, with that, I think players and leagues need to investigate a couple of other areas, too. There are areas still exposed that can have serious damage done like a player’s wrist. We’ve seen it happen. Neck guards are going to happen now, but there might need to be other areas looked at, too.