The Nipawin Hawks, for the last number of years, have been somewhat of a goaltending factory. First there was Davis Jones; then came Joe O’Brien and for the last two seasons there was Kristian Stead, who not only was named the SaskTel Top Goaltender, but was also the SGEU Most Valuable Player last year.
This season the Hawks have two of the top puck stoppers in the league with Declan Hobbs being named co-winner of the top goaltender award while rookie Jake Anthony has been instrumental in helping Nipawin secure its first regular-season championship in almost 20 years.
The recently-turned 19-year-old Anthony has appeared in 31 games during his maiden campaign in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and his 1.94 goals-against average is by far the best and he also leads the way in save percentage with a brilliant .929.
The results turned in by the 6-foot-1, 158-pound Grand Prairie, Alta., product was a dramatic improvement on those he posted in various leagues over the last three years in Alberta.
Last year, with the Sherwood Park Kings of the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League, Anthony appeared in 16 games and had a 2.52 GAA to go with a .914 save percentage. He improved his GAA slightly in three post-season contests to 2.36, but his save percentage fell dramatically to .888.
Prior to his year in Sherwood Park, Anthony split a pair of seasons with the Banff Academy and Banff Bears of the Heritage Junior Hockey League where his save percentage was consistently well below .900 and his GAA was up near the 5.00 mark.
One has to take into account that he was playing against players considerably older than himself and also that despite his age, he was getting into the lion’s share of the games for every team he played with. Plus, as he got older his play improved setting the stage for his outstanding rookie season in the SJHL where this time he often got the better of those players who were older than him.
The Hawks are looking for a deep playoff run and they will be looking towards Anthony, and Hobbs, to help them continue being the top defensive team in the league. With two more years of junior eligibility remaining, the table is certainly set for Anthony to give the Hawks the opportunity to boast one of the premiere goalies in the league.
It’s a pretty safe bet that as long as the Weyburn Red Wings are in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s postseason, Arik Weersink will be tending their goal.
The 20-year-old from Lethbridge has been the Red Wings’ workhorse in goal playing in 42 games this year recording a 20-18-3-1 ledger with one very important game left on the schedule when Weyburn tries to secure the seventh seed on the final night of the regular season with a game in Yorkton against the Terriers.
The 6-foot-4, 202-pound Weersink has faced over 1350 shots this year in posting a 3.02 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. His play has only gotten better as the season progressed as for the first two months he was part of a goaltending rotation in the Weyburn goal before becoming almost exclusively the starting netminder down the stretch.
Acquired from the Grand Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League for a player development fee in the off-season, Weersink’s numbers improved dramatically once he got to the SJHL.
Last year with the Storm, Weersink also got into 42 games only his save percentage was just .890 and his GAA was more than half a goal more per game higher at 3.63. In his first season with Grand Prairie two years ago his numbers were noticeably lower at 5.64 GAA and .859 save percentage in 27 appearances, but that had a lot to do with being on a team that won just 11 times in 60 starts.
Being a workhorse is nothing new for Weersink, nor is being among the best at his position, as in his final year of midget hockey Weersink was named the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League’s top goaltender and earned a place on the first all-star team after posting a 1.90 GAA and .924 save percentage in 19 games with the Lethbridge Midget AAA Hurricanes.
Regardless of what happens on the final night of the regular season, Weersink is going to have to be at his best when the Red Wings open the post season in a shortened best-of-three Wild Card round. With this being his final year of junior eligibility, he will be looking to extend that for as long as possible.
Donavan Houle-Villeneuve scored in every game of the Flin Flon Bombers' Wild Card series win against Notre Dame, and he kept out-doing himself. The rookie from Montreal scored once in Game 1, twice in Game 2, and finished off with a hat trick in the deciding Game 3 in Wilcox. Six goals in his first three career post-season games. Impressive for anyone but considering he had seven (and 21 points) while playing in all 58 regular season games, this series was a coming out party for Houle. He's just one of a multitude of impact Bomber players set to return for next season. But first things first, Flin Flon has a date with the #1 seed Nipawin Hawks in this year's SJHL Quarter-Finals.
Morden, Manitoba's Cade Kowalski is putting a bow on one heck of an SJHL rookie season. The 18-year-old was named to the SJHL's All-Rookie Team after a regular season that saw him lead all rookies in scoring with 60-points (11g-49a). His first post-season run is off to a fine start as well, as he scored a pair of goals March 14th in the decisive Game 3 on home ice against Melville, the second of which, in overtime, propelling the Red Wings to the series win and into the Quarter-Finals against the defending Canalta Cup Champion Battlefords North Stars.
Chaz Smedsrud spent a chunk of last season playing with two of the league's top players, in Ben Duperreault (tied for SJHL scoring lead) and Adam Dawe (Top Scoring Rookie and NCAA Division I commit), and he picked up a solid 33-points in 45-games as a rookie. With his familiar linemates moving on, Smedsrud proved he could adapt just fine, and racked up 29-goals and 61-points this regular season. He exploded for six points (3g-3a) in Game 1 of the Hounds' Wild Card series in Flin Flon. The Hounds won that game 6-4, but dropped the next two on home ice, ending their season. Smedsrud, from Luverne, Minnesota, is eligible to come back as a 20-year-old next season.