For Portage la Prairie native Dean Stewart, his 17-year-old season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) with his hometown Terriers couldn’t have gone any better.
During the 2015-16 season, Stewart was named to Team Canada West where he and his teammates captured gold at the World Junior A Challenge before announcing his commitment to play NCAA Division I Hockey at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) for the following season.
“For me, playing in the MJHL was the perfect stepping stone to get to a Division I NCAA school and eventually professional hockey,” Stewart said of his development path. “I got to play with and against some very skilled players and got to learn from them on how hard you have to work to be an elite player in the league. When I got to UNO I was well prepared and already had a good idea of how hard I was going to have to work thanks to the veterans I played with on the Terriers.”
Months after Stewart helped his Terriers capture the Turnbull Cup as MJHL Champions, he was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 National Hockey League (NHL) Draft by the Arizona Coyotes, 188 overall.
The now 21-year-old defenceman just completed his fourth season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he suited up in 130 games and was named team captain in his senior season.
For Dean, his time spent in the MJHL played a key role in his development which helped him reach the next level.
“I think the MJHL is just a great league to develop as a player and is a perfect stepping stone to where you want to get to. Whether it be the WHL, NCAA, USPORTS, USHL or wherever it might be, the MJHL will prepare you for what’s ahead. I know it helped make the transition to NCAA hockey a lot easier for me, and will help get players opportunities at whatever level of hockey they aspire to play at,” Stewart concluded.