Things are looking up for the La Ronge Ice Wolves.
With one game left on their pre-Christmas portion of the schedule the Ice Wolves already have more wins this season than they did the entire 2016-17 campaign and when play resumes after the break a bonafide scoring threat is expected to return to the line-up adding more punch to a squad that is within striking distance of securing a playoff spot for just the second time in six years.
Mitch Zambon has been on the sidelines for the entire month of December recovering from what coach Evan Vossen says is being “banged up,” but in the five games prior to his absence Zambon was in on 60 per cent of the Ice Wolves’ offence including every goal in his last two outings.
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Saskatoon product landed in La Ronge in mid-November after the Ice Wolves surrendered a player development fee to the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in exchange for the talented forward.
Zambon was in his second season with the Eagles prior to the trade and in 22 games this year he had registered one goal and seven assists. Last year, as an 18-year-old, Zambon dressed in 47 games for Canmore collecting six goals and four helpers.
Prior to making the jump to the Junior “A” level, Zambon spent his final year of midget eligibility with the Saskatoon Blazers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League and in 41 games he netted 17 goals and set up 18 others.
As a 16-year-old Zambon played in 51 games with the Pursuit of Excellence where he posted 10-25-35 totals for the year.
The Ice Wolves are just six points back of the Flin Flon Bombers and eight in arrears of the Melville Millionaires – the teams that presently hold down the final two playoff berths. In the first half of the season La Ronge lost a pair of games in a shootout and another handful by two or fewer in regulation time. With a skilled player like Zambon in the line-up that could turn the results in the Ice Wolves’ favour and bring them that much closer to challenging for a playoff berth. It should be an entertaining second half for the northern most entry in the SJHL.
He has been on the Estevan Bruins’ radar for several years and while it took a little longer than expected it appears that Jake Heerspink is settling in as a key cog to a dynamic offensive club.
The 19-year-old rearguard first appeared in a game with the Bruins as a 16-year-old and then when he was finished his midget eligibility with the Regina Pat Canadians the following season he dressed in a handful of regular-season and playoff games for Estevan and completed the 2015-16 season by competing in the Western Canada Cup, which the Bruins hosted.
The 6-foot, 188-pound Regina native then headed west for the start of last year as he spent the first half of the 2016-17 campaign with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League, where he registered two goals and three assists.
The Bruins paid a player development fee to reacquire Heerspink in mid-November of 2016 and in 30 games with Estevan last year he tallied one goal and set up 10 others. Heerspink also dressed in all nine playoff games, where he was held off the scoresheet, making what he has accomplished so far this year that much more unexpected.
Through 34 games this year Heerspink has notched five goals and assisted on 20 others and in the last 10 games he has collected at least one point in eight of those.
Heerspink brings a lot of intangibles to the Bruins. He is durable as he never missed a single game in two years with the Pat Canadians; he plays with grit as his 129 minutes in penalties with the Pat Canadians attests to (he also has 47 minutes already this year); he is a winner as he was part of the championship Regina squad in his first season with the Pat Canadians; and he can provide plenty of offense when given the opportunity – Heerspink had five goals and 33 assists in his 88 regular-season games with the Pat Canadians.
Heerspink helped the Bruins capture the Viterra Division banner a year ago and his improved play this season has them in a position to repeat as a divisional winner. With one more year of junior eligibility remaining after this year, the Bruins certainly have a building block in place for now and the future as well.
Stars' defenseman Levi Kleiboer eclipsed his career high in goals, when this season was barely a month old. The 19-year-old is already in his third full season, and he's hoping that experience pays off when he looks for a roster spot with Team Canada West at the World Junior 'A' Challenge in Truro, Nova Scotia. Kleiboer is one of nine SJHL players, and 60 total, to be invited to their selection camp in Calgary December 2nd to 5th. The team can only carry a maximum of five 19-year-old (1998-born) players. While there's no way to predict how many of the nine SJHL hopefuls will make the roster, the league will be represented by Head Coach Mike Reagan of the Flin Flon Bombers.
A season and a half into his junior career, Prince Albert product Josh McDougall has certainly been getting noticed. Early this season, the 19-year-old committed to play NCAA Division I for Mercyhurst as a 20-year-old next year. Another feather in his cap came when McDougall was one of nine SJHL players named to a 60-player selection camp, made up of players from the SJHL, MJHL, SIJHL, AJHL and BCHL, looking for spots on Team Canada West at the World Junior 'A' Challenge in Truro, Nova Scotia in December. With over a point-per-game with the Nipawin Hawks this season (4g-20a-24p in 22 games), McDougall is already nearing last season's totals.
Jacob Wassermann is among the youngest goaltenders in the SJHL, but he's quickly established himself as an option to be the starter for his hometown Broncos. The 2000-born Wassermann had hopes to be in the Western Hockey League this season, and had his rights traded from Vancouver to Regina. The Memorial Cup-hosting Pats then re-assigned him to the Broncos, but there's a good chance he could be part of their future, with three full seasons of eligibility after this one. The 6-foot-5 goaltender will head to Team Canada West camp in December, where he'll look to earn a spot at the World Junior 'A' Challenge.