Like any architect, Estevan Bruins head coach and general manger Keith Cassidy is putting the foundation in place for a solid structure. The cornerstones are already there, but it takes some tinkering and redesign to come up with the finished product.
The Bruins have certainly had their delays in construction, as a number of player moves have slowed down the progress of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team and their 7-10-2-0 start to the season is further evidence of that.
When the 2011-12 season concluded for the Bruins, there was a lot of promise for the future. After all the club had finished at the .500 level with a 28-28-0-2 record and got to the second round of the playoffs with a three-game sweep of the Notre Dame Hounds before bowing out in four games to the Weyburn Red Wings.
The team was expecting to return all six of its top scorers plus a number of players who had gained valuable experience - including a pair of defensemen, Tyler Kauk and Austin Yano – and goaltending was to be in the hands of Steven Glass. The line-up was coming together nicely and the future was bright.
Slowly, things began to crumble.
Just before training camp was to start, leading scorer Dylan Smith informed the team that he was going to go play Tier 3 Junior A with the Connecticut Oilers of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. Smith finished last year with 37 goals and 37 assists so that was a big blow to the plans.
Shortly after that team captain Josh Jelinski opted to stay home in Avonlea and work with the family electrical business rather than play his final year of junior hockey. That was another huge setback in the move going forward.
Glass was unable to participate in training camp as a knee injury he suffered last year was still giving him trouble and through the first 20 games of the current campaign, the 19-year-old from Saskatoon still had not faced a shot in the Estevan goal and there was no timetable as to when he was to return.
Then, shortly after the season started, Calder Neufeld suffered a high ankle sprain and has only played in six games, again another major stumbling block as the 20-year-old from Carrot River was second in scoring last year with 34 goals and 33 assists. His absence has obviously hurt the production of Cole Olson, who through 17 games had just four goals and three assists.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the team’s leading scorer, Austin Daae signed on with the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders. Daae played five games for the Bruins last year and collected six assists in five games, but spent the remainder of the season with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. The 19-year-old hometown product returned to Estevan this year and had 16 points in 21 games to share the team scoring lead with Tyler Paslawski.
That’s the bad news!
Newcomer Nick Weiss, who was obtained in a trade with the Grand Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, has scored six times and set up four others in 19 games.
Zach Douglas, an 18-year-old defenseman from McTaggart, Sask., has been a huge addition on the blueline and although he has just two assists in 15 games, he was the lone Saskatchewan player to be selected for the Canadian Junior Hockey League prospects game in Nova Scotia in November.
The Bruins also made some trades after the season was under way acquiring forward Roger Tagoona in a five-player deal that also included several list players, with the Battlefords North Stars, and Dustin Jesseau, a 20-year-old forward, was brought in from the Abitibi Eskimos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Then, of course, there are the cornerstones on defence – Kauk and Yano. Kauk was one of seven players from the SJHL, and the lone defenseman, to be invited to the 60-player selection camp for Team West that competed at the World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia and even though he never made the final squad, he gained valuable experience and showed he is on the radar for making an elite team in the future. Yano, who spurned an offer to go play junior hockey in the United States this fall, is a steadying influence on the back end.
Curtis Martinu has filled in admirably for Glass between the pipes as the product of St. Joachim, Ont., has appeared in 16 games and posted a 3.19 GAA. Travis Pelletier is the other netminder and he has seen action in just five games.
Finally, with all the action on the ice, some very positive news from the front office was released when it was announced that the Bruins made a profit of $201,075 for their fiscal year that ended on April 30. This astounding total reflects the Estevan fans’ enthusiasm for the team and the new arena that the team occupied for the first time last year.
On paper the puzzle is coming together for Cassidy and his staff. It will be just a matter of time before the standings reflect what the team is working toward.