So far, so good for the Yorkton Terriers!
With a veteran team returning from a solid 2011-12 campaign, the Terriers have moved in the right direction through the first half of the current Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season to hold down top spot in the Sherwood Division standings entering the Christmas break.
“It’s been a pretty solid first half for our guys,” admits head coach and general manager Trent Cassan. “We haven’t made any significant moves through trades, but we have relied on our growth throughout the team.”
“Our offense has been spread around each night,” added Cassan. “The guys, on any given night, have spread around the scoring and making big plays.”
Entering the season, the Terriers had less than a handful of spots they needed to fill as Riley Paterson (SAIT), Brent Struble (SAIT), Ryon Sookro (Keyano College) and Sam Rockwell (Keyano College) moved on to post-secondary opportunities leaving the Terriers with a solid nucleus to build from.
Patrick Martens came to Yorkton from Maple Ridge, B.C., and the 20-year-old winger, who had spent a couple of seasons with the Nelson Leafs of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, has been a strong addition collecting 16 goals and 13 assists in 32 games.
Derek Falloon, a cousin to former NHLer Pat Falloon, also switched leagues as the 19-year-old spent the past two years in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League with the Dauphin Kings and Swan Lake Stampeders. Falloon has added strength up the middle scoring seven times and setting up 16 others in 30 games.
Daylan Gatzke is another great addition as the 18-year-old winger is in his first season in the SJHL after spending last year with the Swift Current Legionnaires of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League. Gatzke has collected nine goals and eights in 31 games.
Homegrown product Dylan Johnson has also made the jump from minor midget hockey and has three goals and five assists in 19 games.
The Terriers also strengthened their line-up significantly when a trio of players returned to the club after being let loose by their respective Western Hockey League teams.
Goaltender Dawson MacAuley returned to the team after starting the season with the Medicine Hat Tigers. In 10 games with the Terriers the 18-year-old has a 2.27 goals-against average with one shutout. MacAuley played in 11 games for the Terriers last year.
On the blueline, Yorkton added Austin Bourhis and John Niebrandt and the 20-year-olds, who both played with the Terriers when they were 17 years old, have helped the club post the second-best defence in the league with just 87 goals being scored by opposing teams in 33 games. Humboldt leads the way after allowing 72 goals in 34 contests.
Bourhis, who spent time with the Prince Albert Raiders and Moose Jaw Warriors, has two goals and 12 assists in 27 games while Niebrandt, who played with the Kootenay Ice and Vancouver Giants, has a goal and four helpers in 22 games.
Add these new faces to a solid nucleus of returning players and it is no surprise the Terriers are where they are. Among the veterans are Nathan Murray, who leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and 22 assists, Tyler Giebel, Jeremy Johnson, Zak Majkowski, Kalium Gervais, Brady Norrish, Chase Norrish, Tayler Thompson, Brenden Poncelet, John Odgers and Kale Thomson.
With that much veteran presence, consistency is expected and Cassan says that ultimately is the reason why the Terriers are in first place.
“It’s a long season and there are a lot of ups and downs,” acknowledges Cassan. “We’ve been able to avoid any situations where there is a prolonged losing stretch. Having a veteran team has helped with that consistency.”
The great start, however, is behind them and now comes the gruelling stretch drive to finish the regular season on a positive note and get ready for what the Terriers hope is a long run in the playoffs.
“Our veterans know it is only the first half and that the second half does get tougher,” notes Cassan. “Success is going to be a lot tougher in the playoffs.”
A five-game loss to the Melville Millionaires in their first match in the playoffs last year is a reminder of that. The Terriers will continue to get ready for the post-season, ironically, against Melville when the close rivals open the second half of the schedule with a crucial home-and-home series beginning on Dec. 30 and concluding on New Year’s Day.