MJHL Season Preview | Interior Division

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) is preparing for a season like no other, during what’s been one of the most trying years in recent history.

To mitigate the risk and spread of COVID-19, the MJHL significantly reduced travel & overnight trips by splitting the league into three divisions – Southwest, Interior and Northwest.

The final installment of divisional previews features a look at the Interior Divison, which is home to the Neepawa Natives, Portage Terriers, Virden Oil Capitals and Winkler Flyers.

Neepawa Natives

2019-20 Regular Season: 13-43-1-3
2020 Post Season: Missed by 25 points
Top Returning Scorer: Eli Lieffers | 51GP – 19G – 24A
Estimated Veterans: 
Players to watch: Eli Lieffers (F), Carter Sawchuk (F), Austin Clyne (D)
Breakout Candidate: 
Jaeger Lapointe (F)

Coaches Outlook: “Expectations are to have success in the playoffs. Fans can expect to see an improved team that will work hard each night.” – Head Coach & General Manager, Ken Pearson

A look inside: Back for his second season as Head Coach & General Manager, there’s no question that Ken Pearson will be looking for his group to take the next step in 2020-21. In the final third of last season, Neepawa found themselves battling in a lot of one goal games and became a pain for teams to play against. They’re going to need to bring their best every night in what will be another tight division in the MJHL. Pearson was able to make some solid acquisitions in the offseason including Austin Clyne and Carter Sawchuk, along with goaltender Thomson Phinney who has plenty of experience in the MJHL.

Portage Terriers

2019-20 Regular Season: 44-14-2-0
2020 Post Season: Led Dauphin 2-1 in the first round at the time of shutdown
Top Returning Scorer: Jacob Piller | 39GP – 14G – 26A
Estimated Veterans:
Players to watch: Reece Henry (F), Jacob Piller (F), Layne Toder (D)
Breakout Candidate:
Tyler Dodgson (D)

Coaches Outlook: “There’s been more turnover this season compared to any other and we are in a very tough division. As always we hope to get off to a good start to the season. Our returning players are character people with good work ethic. We hope the veterans along with more practice time in the 40 game schedule will help our newcomers adjust to junior hockey.” – Head Coach & General Manager, Blake Spiller

A look inside: As Blake Spiller shared, the Portage Terriers will have a completely different look in 2020-21. The Terriers lost a good chunk of their roster due to the graduation of their 20-year-old veterans along with a handful of solid pieces that were lost to fulfill future considerations deals they made to bolster their roster for the Centennial Cup. It’s hard to write off the Terriers since year after year they seem to make solid pick-ups and recruit well, but this could be a different season in Terrier town. Only time will tell.

Virden Oil Capitals

2019-20 Regular Season: 32-23-3-2
2020 Post Season: Led Winkler 2-1 in the first round at the time of shutdown
Top Returning Scorer: Hunter Cloutier | 55GP – 29G – 36A
Estimated Veterans:
Players to watch: Jack Einarson (F), Logan Rands (F), Kyle Kozma (G)
Breakout Candidate:
Hunter Andrew (F)

Coaches Outlook: “I think expectations as a group are high. We felt we were playing really well as a group at the end of last season when things got cut short and with a lot of returning players we are excited to build on what we started. I think if you ask our returning guys, they would tell you that they are ready for a deep playoff run. Our returning players are poised to continue what we started last season and we expect them to take a step forward as a group. Our young players are guys that play the game fast and with skill and they work extremely hard. Oil Caps’ fans can expect an exciting team to watch.” – Head Coach & General Manager, Tyson Ramsey

A look inside: Returning more than half of their roster from last season has Tyson Ramsey and his Virden Oil Capitals in a great spot entering 2020-21. With eight of their top ten in team scoring back for the new season, it’s clear that scoring depth shouldn’t be an issue. The Oil Caps’ added even more skill to their lineup, making a handful of key offseason signings that included former draft picks and a trio of players who were set to play in the WHL this season. Goaltender, Kyle Kozma saw 24 games of action as a rookie last season and should be set to take the reigns is his second year with the club. Expect Virden to be a very consistent club.

Winkler Flyers

2019-20 Regular Season: 38-17-2-3
2020 Post Season: Trailed Virden 2-1 at the time of
Top Returning Scorer: Jayden McCarthy | 58GP – 28G – 36A
Estimated Veterans:
Players to watch: Reid Dyck (G), Connor Gallagher (D), Jayden McCarthy (F)
Breakout Candidate: 
Trent Sambrook (D)

Coaches Outlook: “We want to focus on our process and compete every day in practices. Off the ice we will worry what we can control and hopefully create an environment where winning takes care of itself. Keep building the program into a premier destination for junior hockey players all over the continent. Fans can expect a competitive team that defends themselves and their teammates every single night. Tough, high octane offence, skilled defence and rock solid goaltending.” – Head Coach, Kelvin Cech

A look inside: Besides the Dauphin Kings, Winkler comes into the new season with some of the strongest depth from top to bottom in the MJHL. Adding pieces like Tanner Andrew, Logan Danis and Kolten Shindle to what will be an already impressive lineup should give the Flyers what they need to have success on a nightly basis. Losing Goaltender, Dorrin Luding and MJHL Defenseman of the Year, Drake Burgin is a big hit to the back end but its one that Cech was prepared for. The Flyers have gone young in net with the tandem of returning netminder, Dylan Meilun and 16-year-old Reid Dyck who will be put to the test early.