Take 1 – There are a few days a year when you hope there are no games and it just so happens that this Sunday, every team has the night off so they can enjoy the Grey Cup. Some will be watching the game, cheering on their team while others are just there for the experience or the snacks. Getting together as a team or in groups at a billets house is something that a lot of guys will remember after they’ve moved on from the league. Prediction: Bombers 31 Montreal 13
Take 2 – Hockey clichés are tossed around all the time but when coaches try and detail how they’re going to score on goalies in the MJHL, what else can they say? The goaltenders this year have been rock stars. Yes, there have been some games where the scores have gotten out of control but don’t take it at face value, look at the shots or chances against instead of just the final number. Rarely is it on the goalies when things get out of control. Every team in the MJHL has good goaltending. The whole “get pucks on net with traffic” can get old but what else can be said when you’re facing a stud in pads every single night? Goaltending can take you special places and many have been developing in the league for a while, which is crucial since goalies don’t just magically appear. Unless you’re in Swan Valley where Barry Wolfe must have a garden of elite goaltenders hidden somewhere.
Take 3 – Fitting that coming off talking about MJHL goaltenders, the first padded hero has committed. Raiden LeGall of the Niverville Nighthawks announced his commitment to Bemidij Sate. The Morden, Manitoba product has had a wonderful year for the Nighthawks coming off a great stretch with the Pembina Valley Hawks U18AAA program. In 2022, LeGall was scooped up by Niverville in the 3rd round of the MJHL draft. Talking to Kevin and Lua Pauls, they have nothing but great things to say about Raiden as a player and person. Kevin describes him as stoic and pleasant. He takes the earbuds out just to say hi when people around the team are doing their thing around the rink. He’s hyper-focused and super-driven, working insanely hard at his craft. Congrats to Raiden and his family. The first of hopefully many MJHL goaltenders to announce commitments this year.
Take 4 – Goal scoring is going young again. Three players (as of Thursday morning, it could very easily change with Virden in action Thursday night) are tied atop the goal-scoring race at 12. Two Oil Caps, one born in 2004 (Josh Lehto) and the other born in 2005 (Nolan Chastko) along with one Piston also born in 2005 (Grady Hoffman). There have been several 19-year-olds who have led the league in goals over the years including Ryan Botterill of Portage with 45 last year, Dauphin’s Grady Hobbs in 19/20 with 43, Virden’s Tyler Kirkup in 17/18 with 40, Neepawa’s Justin Metcalf in 16/17 with 38, Winkler’s Tristan Keck in 14/15 with 43 and Dauphin’s Jesse Sinatynski with an eye-popping 59 goals in 60 games in 2011-12. Could this be the year an 18-year-old like Grady Hoffman or Nolan Chastko take the crown or will that veteran savvy of a 20-year-old just go slow and steady all year, finding their way to the top of the mountain?
Take 5 – Speaking of Ryan Botterill, the former Portage Terriers star who now plays for the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League (USHL), announced his commitment to play NCAA Division 1 hockey for the University of Wisconsin Badgers who are currently the number one ranked team in NCAA men’s hockey. Botterill nearly popped the top off of Stride Place in Portage during the Centennial Cup in May when he scored a huge game winner against Collingwood (OJHL) that would solidify the Terriers spot in the Centennial Cup playoff round. Congratulations to Ryan
Take 6 – Hockey is a copycat sport at times and a prime example is the new timing of pulling the goalie. Everyone points to Patrick Roy who did it in 2016, pulling the goalie with 10 minutes left in the game as the start of the early pull, but there was a team recently that took it to a whole other level. Down 3-0 late in the second period and on a power play, they yanked the goalie to go 6-on-4. Bold strategy, Cotton. It did not pay off. The opposition scored shorthanded and all but sealed the game. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t so why not give it a try? Perhaps it’s a good thing it didn’t work or coaches everywhere would have that thought in the back of their mind. Watch now there’s going to be a team in the last game of the year that’s in overtime needing that extra point and they’ll pull the goalie to go 4 on 3.
Take 7 – There’s nothing quite like when a large group of friends and family go to a visiting rink to cheer on their guy. I’ve been told it’s going to happen soon for Naaman Hofer of the Dauphin Kings who’s expecting 15 or more people in the stands during an upcoming road game. There have been many examples of busloads of people coming from Saskatchewan with giant cardboard heads of players or names spelt out in body paints. That’s got to give the player for sure but the whole team a boost when they hear those loud cheers, especially away from home. Hoping more parents, friends, billets or anyone is planning on going to other rinks to cheer on their player and his team. Just no air horns, please and thank you.
Take 8 – I put the Neepawa Titans vs the Niverville Nighthawks game from my phone to my tv last night and it was glorious. It was so easy. FloHockey pretty much made me do it by asking me to download the app, which I did, then the option came up phone or tv and presto, MJHL hockey on the big tv. Not a big deal to most but if you’ve ever had to fool around trying to put a HDMI cable from the laptop to the back of the tv, having it go so easily from your phone to the screen is a massive game changer. Thanks for the shout out, Kevin Pauls!
Take 9 – Awesome to see the Titans host their first ever billet appreciation night as a way to say thanks to the families who’ve opened their homes to players. The MJHL and all junior hockey is made possible because of billets. Many, many players even years after living there, still have a connection to their billets. Talking to a few over the years, the families love it and say it is a weird feeling when they’re invited to their former players wedding or get a baby announcement, that’ll make anyone feel a bit old. Many teams around the league do things for their billets and it was great to see Neepawa showing love and support.
Take 10 – The Portage Terriers had Paul Coffey speak at their annual Sportsman’s Dinner and shortly after, he was named Assistant Coach of the Edmonton Oilers. Cody Buhler said the organization doesn’t just promote players to the next level, they’ve taken it up a notch by helping guest speakers get to the next level. Hard to argue with that logic. They’ll have a lineup of guys wanting to speak at next year’s event.
Take 11 – In the social media age we’re in, teams in the MJHL could do something pretty fun to let fans see behind the scenes and feel more connected. It’s a big ask for people in an already stressful/overworked position but a team is going to be the first to find a way to make content after a win where the team presents a player with something of significance for a great game. We sometimes see photos but guessing it won’t be long until there’s a video of one guy passing off the honor to another. They do it in the NHL and its great content. Any team can do it, but the first might be Winkler. Their social media game is already pretty elite. Sorry Tyler, more work for you!
Take 12 – I’ve spoken to someone connected to the evil Power Rankings guru and got some clarity on how they go about slotting teams where they do. It’s a matter of weekly overall record, strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups, goals for vs goals against with a sprinkle of how the teams been playing of late overall. It’s not an exact science and probably only two or three teams will be happy with it every week. It can be head-shakingly surprising at times but last I checked they don’t hand out championships based off MJHL Power Rankings so we should just have some fun with it.
Take 13 – Wrapping up this week’s Takes with a thank you but also a reminder to a very important volunteer position, the camera operator. Thank you for taking time out of your evening to work the camera so we can enjoy games on FloHockey but please remember that the video is important to teams and the league. If there’s a questionable hit, the league will look at the video first. As teams prepare for their opponents, they’ll use the video as a teaching or learning tool. Take pride in what you’re doing because it really is quite important. Teams can always use more volunteers at games so if you want to get involved, talk to someone around the organization and I’m sure they’ll find a way you can help out. Thanks to all the current and future MJHL volunteers!