By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
The Swan Valley Stampeders were announced as the seventh-best team in the most recent CJHL national rankings. For most of the past few years, the Stampeders would have been happy to be ranked seventh in the MJHL.
But there is something special about this year’s version of the Stamps. First off, they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary season (as are the Waywayseecappo Wolverines, who themselves are off to a much better start than last year).
The Stamps saw their former bench boss resign in the preseason, and their current head coach and general manager Barry Wolff not officially start until after the regular season began.
Despite the adversity the Stampeders are one of the strongest teams in the MJHL as they reach the quarter mark of the season, and it’s a team that’s fueled by offense.
Three of the top four scoring players in the MJHL are on the Stamps – and two of them were not projected to be with them come the start of training camp. But the small ripples from decisions made early September have become giant waves.
The top scorer in the MJHL in late October is Josh Tripp. The Swan Valley product only opted to rejoin the Stamps late in the preseason after previously committing to playing south of the border this winter. He has eight goals and 17 assists.
He was a runner up for player of the week honours as he helped the Stampeders win three straight. And dating back to the week before, he was a big part of the Stamps scoring seven goals against the Winnipeg Blues in three straight games, scoring three goals and adding three assists in those three games.
“I’m not sure how we did it,” says Wolff on Swan Valley’s offensive success against the Blues. “We tried to keep things simple, and we had a lot of good drives to the net, some good rebounds. We were also fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
Matt Osadick, like his new head coach, didn’t join the team until after the start of the season, another former Stamp who returned to the league from the States. He sits in third place with 12 goals, 10 assists, and a league-best points per game of 1.92. Better yet, he convinced his best friend Bradly Goethals to join the Stamps from the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades – and he has the fifth-best points per game clip in just nine games with the Stamps.
“I left Saskatoon and wanted to play with Matt in my last year,” said Goethals. “We finally worked that out, and it’s been awesome. We probably see each other every day in the summer, and I just wanted to finish my junior career up with him.”
Happy players equal plenty of offense apparently.
And then there’s defenceman Quintin Sudom, who is fourth in league scoring with eight goals and 13 assists. A runner up for defenceman of the month, it seems likely Sudom will take home that honour after a sizzling month.
Along with fellow blueliner Dane Hirst (tied for 13th in league scoring with 16 points), the Stamps have an active and talented defense corps.
“We want that offense from the blue line, and both those guys have good vision and find the right hole at the right time without being caught. And both have a knack to score goals,” says Wolff.
The Stampeders have nine players average a point or better per game. They lead the league in goals per game. There is definitely something special about this year’s team.
November promises to be an interesting month. They play three straight against the improved Dauphin Kings. Have two games back-to-back against the reloaded Steinbach Pistons. And further down the road, they don’t meet perennial contender Portage until after the Dec. 1 trade deadline.
But for all the offense and excitement surrounding the Stamps, their new bench boss knows there is still work to do away from the puck.
“We do need to get better defensively,” he said. “When you’re scoring a lot of goals, sometimes guys start cheating and get on the wrong side of their checks. We need to make sure we’re working hard on the defensive side of our game. Because come playoff time, that’s what is going to win it for you – defense.”