By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
You know you have scoring depth when you have the top two scorers in the entire Manitoba Junior Hockey League on your roster – and they don’t even play on the same line.
The Steinbach Pistons have all sorts of weapons in their arsenal, and perhaps none more potent than Bradley Schoonbaert. The Brandon native leads all MJHL scorers, starting 2018 with 24 goals and 34 assists for 58 points, slightly ahead of teammate Braden Purtill, who had four less helpers at the start of the month.
Offensively, the season has been going as well as could be expected for Schoonbaert, though he feels he can still improve on his game moving forward.
“It’s been going pretty good so far for me and the team, and that has to do with how much depth we have,” he said. “I have such great linemates in Drew Worrad and Riese Gaber (who joined the team at the start of the December from Dauphin). Things are going well, after a bit of a slower period.”
Schoonbaert is referring to the stretch in late December where he “only” scored three goals. But the dynamic forward has been a model of consistency not only this year, but his entire career. This season, Schoonbaert has points in 28 of 37 games, and has put together scoring streaks of seven and eight straight games this year.
Historically, Schoonbaert started his MJHL career with a solid 52-point performance. Last year he upped his totals to 29 goals and 43 assists for 72 points. He is well on pace to eclipse all those totals this year. He actually started his career with the Dauphin Kings, playing one game for them as a call up before being dealt to the Pistons in a deal which saw the Kings acquire Tyler Garrioch.
But interestingly, outside a few games earlier in the season, he and Purtill – a Winnipeg native – play on separate lines. That’s one of the things which make the Pistons so hard to beat.
“It all comes down to our depth, and we have four lines that can play and score,” said Schoonbaert, adding he and Purtill never really discuss their race for the league scoring title. “And that’s really going to help us down the stretch.”
The facts back him up – the Pistons have the top two scorers, three in the top 10, and six in the top 20 of MJHL scoring.
The Pistons have begun to pull away from a back near the top of the standings, and are well poised to again lock up top spot in the MJHL. But they had that last year, and had to watch as the Portage Terriers bested the OCN Blizzard in the league final. Schoonbaert says they know they have something to prove this year.
“I think we have all the pieces this year,” he said. “We have so much depth; we have two great goaltenders, and great defenceman. We just need to put it together.”
And while the league championship remains his first priority, Schoonbaert is also optimistic about playing NCAA hockey next year. There has been some interest from south of the border thus far but nothing has been confirmed as yet.
The talented Piston will have another opportunity to show off his talents as he was selected to play on Team Belfour (named after MJHL alumni Eddie Belfour/Winkler) at the MJHL/SJHL Showcase scheduled for Regina on Jan. 15-16.
Given the way he is leading the Pistons, it should only be a matter of time before a Division One school scoops him up.