By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
There’s busy in life. And then there’s BUSY!!!!
Isaac LaBelle of the Waywayseecappo Wolverines can relate. The 20-year-old goaltender is the busiest netminder in the MJHL, having played 2,413 minutes in 41 games this year. He also got to play in the recent MJHL-SJHL all-star event, where he shone brightly with a shutout win.
“That was a great event put on, and I appreciated the chance to play for the MJHL,” he said. “It was nice to get the win and meet some other great players from around the league. It was a great confidence booster for me as well.”
Meanwhile, thanks to the outstanding and steady play of LaBelle, the Wolverines are battling for a playoff berth. You’ll recall that time time last year the Wolverines were well out of the playoff race and reading golf magazines.
This season has been a remarkable turnaround for the franchise. When head coach Taylor Harnett came on board in November 2017 he had a lot of work to do, and started making trades left, right and centre to improve the Wolverines.
This season, many of those deals have paid huge dividends, though perhaps none larger than those delivered by bringing in LaBelle.
The Saskatoon native is having a lights-out season on a team fighting to get into the playoffs. Consider last season LaBelle had a 4.36 GAA and a .884 save percentage. This season, he’s posted a GAA of 2.46 and a save percentage of .915. That’s a remarkable improvement, and a clear example of how much better the Wolverines are this year compared to a year ago.
“Last year we were not in the hunt for a playoff spot, but this year everyone came in at the start of the season with the goal of making the playoffs,” said LaBelle. “We had a great start, sort of struggled in the middle, but now it seems we’re getting back to the things that make us successful.”
Harnett noted how important the goaltending has been for the Wolverines this season, though adding that is just part of what’s needed to get this team into the post season.
“Any team has to have good goaltending to win at a high level, and you’re best player should ultimately be your goaltender – and that’s a lot of pressure on them. Our players rely on our goaltending to win us games, but they also have to be part of it – and when we’re winning, they are,” he said. “When we win hockey games, it’s because all three units are going.”
Following a recent two-game sweep over the OCN Blizzard at home – which included a thrilling third-period rally in the second victory – the Wolverines found themselves just two points behind both Winkler and Winnipeg. LaBelle says those were two huge wins for the team.
“Those were really big wins for us,” says LaBelle. “We’ve struggled holding leads at times, but last night was huge for us.”
And as the push for the playoffs continues, LaBelle knows he will be called upon to keep them in games. The Wolverines have allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the MJHL this year, proof they know how to play solid defense.
“I think goaltending is going to play a pretty big role in the upcoming games, but it’s a team sport and my defense has helped me out a lot this year,” he said. “So has the offense. We have one of the best defensive zone teams in the league. And the scoring will come.”