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.
First up is a glance at the Southeast Divison, which features the Selkirk Steelers, Steinbach Pistons, Winnipeg Blues and the newly minted Winnipeg Freeze.
2019-20 Regular Season: 23-30-6-1
2020 Post Season: Missed by two points
Top Returning Scorer: Eric Krywy | 54GP – 5G – 21A
Estimated Veterans: 11
Players to watch: Sheldin Howard (F), Eric Krywy (D), Jordan McFarlane (D)
Breakout Candidate: Ryan Ostermann (F)
Coaches Outlook: “We expect to be a very competitive team this season that can compete with any team across the league. We feel very confident in the group that we have to play the right way night in and night out and to be a difficult team to play against. We believe that we can be a playoff team and one that can do some damage as we continue to grow together as a group. Fans expect to see a hard working group that brings a high level of intensity every night, a group that plays for each other and plays fast. We have a competitive group that cares about winning and that is passionate about improving each day.” – Head Coach, Hudson Friesen
A look inside: After unloading many of their significant pieces prior to last seasons trade deadline, the Selkirk Steelers have fully embraced a youth-movement which included a number of key signings in the offseason. First year Head Coach and former Steelers’ standout, Hudson Friesen will look to steer the ship in the right direction early on in his tenure as Head Coach.
2019-20 Regular Season: 42-10-5-3
2020 Post Season: 4-0 1st Round Series Win over Blues
Top Returning Scorer: Ty Naaykens | 58GP – 23G – 32A
Estimated Veterans: 6
Players to Watch: Matt Osadick (F), Christian Riemer (D), Sam Court (D)
Breakout Candidate: Ty Naaykens (F)
Coaches Outlook: “We expect to be a team that competes on a nightly basis and strives to improve and grow as a group each week. We hope that can translate into a team that can contend for a league title in 2021. Expect a team that plays fast and with a lot of tenacity. We expect our team to play with pace and one that transitions quickly from defence to offence.” – Head Coach & General Manager, Paul Dyck
A look inside: There’s no question the Pistons looked poised to make a run at the Turnbull Cup in 2019-20 before the season was cancelled due to the global pandemic. Paul Dyck had another busy off-season that featured key acquisitions of Matt Osadick, Blake Burr and Zac Patrick. The Pistons own one of the deepest rosters in the MJHL and will look to pick up where they left off when the pandemic ended their season in March.
2019-20 Regular Season: 24-29-6-1
2020 Post Season: 0-4 1st Round Series Loss to Pistons
Top Returning Scorer: Brayden Foreman | 50GP – 17G – 45A
Estimated Veterans: 10
Players to Watch: Cooper Hatfield (G), Brayden Foreman (F), Josiah Vanderhooft (F)
Breakout Candidate: Hughie Hooker (D)
Coaches Outlook: “We want to continue to build off of last season with our late push into the playoffs and use that playoff experience going forward. We have a good mix of veterans and first year players that have committed to our development plan and want to compete for the top spot in the division. I think fans will really enjoy watching our players this season because of all the speed and skill that we have. We are going to be a younger team again this season but we have some good first year players that will make an immediate impact in the league.” – Head Coach & General Manager, Taras McEwen
A look inside: To say the Winnipeg Blues shocked the MJHL in 2019-20 might be an understatement. Most pundits who follow the league wrote off the team from Winnipeg who decided to inject a youth-movement of their own. While the Blues may have lost a pair of key pieces in the off-season, a solid tandem in net and a year of experience under the belt of their returning veterans should bode well for the Blues. General Manager, Taras McEwen also added Head Coach to his list of duties this offseason, following the advancement of Gord Burnett to the Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL).
2019-20 Regular Season: N/A
2020 Post Season: N/A
Top Returning Scorer: N/A
Players with MJHL Experience: Will Gurski (G), Evan Kaufman (D), Kurtis Luke (F), Nick Trudel (D), Nathan Driver (F), Derrick Lange (F)
Players to Watch: Brandt Young (D), Nathan Driver (F), Kurtis Luke (F)
Breakout Candidate: Erik Mork (F)
Coaches Outlook: “Our expectations are to compete on a nightly basis. We are short on experience but we have kids willing to work and learn and that will be the key to our success. Our defence and goaltending will be the backbone of our team so expect a stingy group. We will play hard team defence and hopefully rely on opportunistic scoring to win our games.” – Head Coach & General Manager, Josh Green
A look inside: The newest franchise in the MJHL will certainly have their work cut out for them as they embark on their first season in the league. The Freeze will lean on their six MJHL veterans who will look to guide what is shaping up to be another young team in the Southeast. Josh Green steps into the role of Head Coach & General Manager after spending last year as an Assistant with the Winnipeg ICE (WHL). The former NHL’er will try to bring his experience as a player to the table during what will also be his first time as a Head Coach & General Manager. If anyone learned their lesson last season, you simply cant write off a roster who is young and hungry.