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POTENTIAL DEFENSEMAN OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES

02/15/2013, 12:00pm CST
By Mike Stackhouse

Very similar to this week's Rookie Of The Year story, this is not an actual submission by teams; but rather an observation by one person.

BATTLEFORDS – When the Stars sputtered through the first two months, it was thought that several SJHL teams would mortgage their future for the rights to Brody Luhning.  Instead, the Stars caught fire and Luhning has been a big reason why.  He leads the club with 10-powerplay goals and eats major minutes.  Evan Ripley hasn’t put up big numbers in his first season in the SJHL, but he has garnered some attention from scouts with his intelligent play.

ESTEVAN – While the Bruin defense could go down as one of the areas where they’ve disappointed this year, the play in the second half from Tyler Kauk and Brett Blatz has been impressive.  It seems as though this top pairing will continue to get the majority of the tough defensive assignments and also significant powerplay time as well.

FLIN FLON – If Josh Roach doesn’t win the SJHL Defenseman Of The Year Award, there ought to be an investigation.  This year’s SJHL version of Bobby Orr was in contention for the SJHL scoring title right up until the last week or so.  He has brought a winning attitude to the Bomber dressing room that will be relied upon heavily in the second season.

HUMBOLDT – Roach’s former team hasn’t missed him and that’s not meant to be a slight at Roach.  It’s more of a compliment to the rest of the unit, led by Logan Sproule and Kameron Ballas.  Injuries to the blueline is what made people start to take notice on how good Sproule really is.  His offense is underrated, his leadership qualities are very good, and his defensive game continues to improve.  At one point, he might have been considered their team MVP.

KINDERSLEY – It’s taken a while, but Austin Yano looks to be comfortable in his new surroundings after a midseason trade from Estevan.  In fact, Yano was relied upon, and delivered nicely, last weekend in two victories over the Bruins.  With Shaun MacPherson gone to the Western Hockey League, the play of Yano has become even more crucial.

LA RONGE – When the Ice Wolves were doing a lot of their tear down/rebuild; Brett Hope was a target for a few clubs; but Hope is eligible to come back next year and should be ready to take yet another step in his development.  He’s flirted with being a solid powerplay contributor over the last two years.  Carl-Philippe Ouimet has only been on the team for fourteen games, but he’s scored four goals and has been a steadying influence for the younger players.

MELFORT – Matt Saunderson has emerged as their top point producing defenseman and plays some key minutes for the club; while Brandon Parrone has, surprisingly, modest numbers despite showing flashes of being a confident puck mover.  Overall, the Mustangs’ defense has been a real strong suit for them this year with local product Jay Aasen also playing a key role as a rookie.

MELVILLE – Brennan Ritchie has really stabilized what has been a sore spot for the Mils for most of the season.  He’s been given the reins to take over the blueline and hasn’t disappointed in any facet of the game.  In fact, he’s probably been one of the more underrated defensemen in the league for the last two years.  Kevin Woodyatt was just what the doctor ordered on January 10th.  A stay-at-home type that can be counted on in the game’s final minute.

NIPAWIN- Grant Jensen is never going to put up big numbers, but he might be this year’s version of Braden Kmita, the Weyburn defenseman from last year who was really tough to beat in 1-on-1 battles.  Jeff Datoff hasn’t taken off from last year’s breakout season, offensively, but as team captain he has certain intangibles that make him extremely valuable and his offense has been fairly consistent.   Getting Carter Berg from Melfort gives Doug Johnson yet another option for important situations.

NOTRE DAME – There may not be a better 1-2 offensive combination than Mitch Boucher and Carson Grolla.  Grolla has long been considered one of the SJHL’s best, but now he’s realizing further potential as the Hounds have been even more competitive this year than his other seasons in the league.  Boucher has surprised a few by being one of the more dangerous defensive weapons from the back end in the SJHL this season.

WEYBURN – Rookie Ryan Cooper has made a nice transition from the Junior ‘B’ ranks to become a decent offensive performer, but he’s also not afraid to put his weight into an opposing forward on the rush either.  Carter Struthers, unfortunately, has missed a chunk of the season due to injury; but his talent is unquestioned and he projects to be a decent NCAA player.

YORKTON – The Terriers’ bread and butter, you could list all six of their defensemen here; but the Norrish twins are the cream of the crop.  Brady is maybe a bit more explosive than Chase; but it was Chase who had a hat-trick against Melville just after Christmas.  A big reason why Yorkton didn’t make any moves of significance on January 10th was due to the delusional thinking of rival clubs that one or both of these players would be available as a future consideration down the road.  One can only imagine that is a non-starter for a conversation for trade.

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