By Derek Holtom
Consider this amazing statistic – ever since Blake Spiller took over the program back in 2006-07, the Portage Terriers have never won less than 30 games.
In a 60-62 game schedule, winning at least half of your games consistently is an achievement to behold. Since Spiller moved into the head coach position, the Terriers have won more than 40 games on six occasions – with two of those being 50-plus win campaigns.
So it should come as no surprise to see the Terriers once again near the top of the MJHL, as they jostle with the Swan Valley Stampeders for first place. The Terriers have a winning percentage above .800, and are on pace to once again win more than 30 games – and potentially 40.
So how do Spiller and the Terriers remain so consistent year in and year out?
“It surprises me (the consistent win total),” said Spiller. “Every year there’s always good teams in the league.
“I think having the same staff, and we always try to play the same way,” he added. “Guys move on every year, but when you bring back the young guys, and nothing really changes, those veterans have the familiarity. So maybe that has something to do with it.”
The Terriers are one of the top scoring teams in the MJHL, led by hometown product Reilly Funk (31 points in 28 games) and Regina’s Ty Barnstable (27 points in 23 games).
“We have a young group, and Ty Barnstable is our captain,” says Spiller. “Every year we have leaders, and I have to put him up on the pedestal with those guys. Our guys look up to him – guys like Braden Billaney (who returned from suspension) and they work hard every day.
“And Riley Funk had such a good year with midget AAA last year when we sent him back, I think the confidence he got going back has really helped him to the start of this year,” he added.
The Terriers also have the third-highest scoring defenceman in the MJHL this year in Ancaster, Ont., product Caelan McPhee, who serves as a true quarterback of the power play, with 10 of his 22 points this season coming via the power-play.
“Caelan and Owen Murray have been really good on the back end of the power-play, and that’s something we work on a little more than we used to,” noted Spiller. “Ken Brooks, one of our assistant coaches, looks after that, and that part of our game has gotten better.
Speaking of the power-play, no one has a better unit so far this year – the Terriers are scoring 31.4 per cent of the time. Opposition teams beware if you take a minor against Portage this season – especially when you consider Spiller says the Terriers don’t run power-play units per se, but instead keep lines and together for man-advantage opportunities.
And in goal, the Terriers have two solid netminders in Nathan Moore and Ethan Peterson. The acquisition of Peterson, who played with the Swan Valley Stampeders this year before leaving in training camp to play south of the border – gives the Terriers a veteran presence between the pipes. The fact the Terriers and Stampeders won’t face each other until after the Dec. 1 roster deadline only adds to the intrigue surrounding that move.
“We usually want to play everyone early, but sometimes there are quirks in the schedule,” said Spiller. “It’s tough, you really don’t know what they’re about until you play them, even if you watch them on video or go watch them.
“Swan is a veteran group – I think (former head coach) Taurean White did a great job last year, and I really thought they turned a corner,” added Spiller. “And with ‘Wolffy’ coming in, I think it’s going to be tough for anyone facing them going forward. We’re looking forward to where we stand when we play them.”