CRAIG PEJKOVIC, F
La Ronge Ice Wolves
by Craig Stein
It's been a tough year in La Ronge as far as the standings go, but through a coaching change and some top players being moved at the deadline, one veteran playing his best hockey of the year lately has been 19-year-old forward Craig Pejkovic. The 6-foot-3, 205 lb Sherwood Park, AB product finished January on a four game point streak (2g-4a-6p), and is set to more than double his point total of a year ago when he was a rookie. The Ice Wolves will finish the season with just one 20-year-old on the roster (defenseman Lucas Nagel), and have pieces to build on going forward, with a guy like Pejkovic up front in particular.
DAMIAN BENTZ, F
by Craig Stein
A return home appears to be paying dividends for Melville forward Damian Bentz. After AP'ing for the Millionaires for a single game two years ago, Bentz started this season with the defending RBC Cup Champion West-Kelowna Warriors, before being re-acquired by Melville in October, finding his stride right away, putting up points in each of his first two games, and had 10-goals and 25-points through 35 games. Those totals have him in the top 10 among SJHL rookies, despite his late arrival. The Punnichy, SK product spent his 'AAA' Midget days, just down the highway from Melville, in Yorkton for three full seasons.
BRANDON WAGNER, F
by Craig Stein
While many teams in the bottom half of the standings were moving key veteran players out at this season's trade deadline, the Kindersley Klippers, at that time hovering at or below the final playoff spot, were quiet on January 10th. The likes of 20-year-old Brandon Wagner, likely a sought-after commodity for contending teams, stayed put after the deadline, and, the Klippers rocketed up the standings, winning seven straight games (as of Feb/6), a streak that took them from out of a playoff spot, to on a verge of avoiding the Wild Card series, with a top six spot. Wagner's been at the forefront with 20+ goals and 40+ points on the season.
COBY DOWNS, F
Battlefords North Stars
by Craig Stein
Despite rejoining the Battlefords North Stars about a month into the season, 20-year-old forward Coby Downs is in the conversation for a scoring title. The Mont Clair, California product had 27-goals and 73-points with the Stars last season, then returned south of the border, beginning this season in the USHL. Not the Stars were hurting for scoring before his return, but he was welcomed back with open arms. He currently leads the league in points per game, and on trade deadline day, was riding a 10 game point streak (4g-14a-18p) while being within striking distance of the league-lead. The Stars are 25-3-0-0 since Downs re-joined them in mid-October.
KRISTIAN STEAD, G
by Craig Stein
The Nipawin Hawks were flirting with a sub-2.00 Goals Against Average, well past the midway point of this season, and while a team commitment to defense is always part of that, it's no secret that getting elite level goaltending every night is the catalyst, and that's been very true for the Hawks and 20-year-old Kristian Stead. The Hawks' second year starter, as of January 11th, was top-five in the SJHL in every major goaltending statistic, ranking 2nd in save percentage (.929), 3rd in minutes, 4th in wins and goals against average (2.15) and third in shutouts (3). The Hawks have games in hand on all of the teams ahead of them in the standings, and they'll look to gain some ground in the final 20+ games.
JACOB WOZNEY, F
Weyburn Red Wings
by Craig Stein
As a team, the Weyburn Red Wings have struggled at times with scoring this season, but one veteran forward helping to change that is 20-year-old Jacob Wozney. Wozney hit the 20-goal plateau in early January, and leads the team by a fair margin in that department, and has four multi-goal games on the year, and also has a slim lead in points on the club. And just for good measure, Wozney also adds some sandpaper to the lineup, as he's already past the century mark in penalty minutes on the season, also tops on the Wings. In his second and final season in the SJHL, the Richmond, BC product has been joined on the Red Wings by his brother, 19-year-old Noah.
Flin Flon, F
Brandon Lesko joins teammate Cory Thomas and Coach Mike Reagan in a strong Bombers' contingent to be part of this year's World Junior 'A' Challenge, December 11-17 in Bonnyville, AB. Lesko has a full year's head start on most 18-year-olds in the SJHL, having played a full year (57 games) a year ago at 17, where he put up 8-goals and 26-points. He's already out-done his goal total, and is well on his way to a new career high in points as well, having posted 12-goals and 20-points in 26-games before leaving for the tournament.
Yorkton Terriers, D
A trio of SJHL players are in Bonnyville, AB for the World Junior 'A' Challenge this week, as Yorkton defenseman Regan Seiferling joins a duo of Flin Flon Bombers to his left and right in this section at the annual event. Seiferling returned from injury in time to make an impression at the selection camp and earned one of five (maximum) spots handed out to 19-year-olds. The Moose Jaw product already has an NCAA Division I scholarship sewn up, having committed last season to the RIT Tigers, a scholarship which could start as soon as next season.
Flin Flon, D
His offensive numbers might not jump off the page at you, but that's far from the main concern of towering Flin Flon defender Cory Thomas. The 6-foot-5 210-pound 18-year-old from St. Brieux can make life tough on the opposition, and that's sure to be his job at the World Junior 'A' Challenge this week. Bombers' Coach/GM Mike Reagan, also part of the Team Canada West staff, said in the Flin Flon Reminder, “It’s his ability to defend. His size is definitely an asset of his and he can play a good shutdown role."
Estevan Bruins, F
What a first half it's been for Estevan forward Kaelan Holt. A rookie depth forward on last year's potent club that hosted the Western Canada Cup, Holt finished with 7-goals and 27-points. This season, going into the Remembrance Day long weekend, Holt held the SJHL lead with 16-goals in 22-games, and his 25-points had him just outside the league's top five, and on pace for 40+ goals and 70+ points. Holt and the Bruins are exceeding the expectations of many thus far, with a comfortable lead in the Viterra Division.
Humboldt Broncos, D
Only a select few will play in the SJHL as a 16 or 17 year old in a given year, and it's especially tough to make that early jump as a young defenseman. 1999-born Xavier Labelle appears to be fitting in just fine, 20+ games into his rookie season. The Saskatoon, SK product played two full seasons of Midget 'AAA' with his hometown Contacts, including last season when he registered 16-points (6g-10a) while playing in all 44 games. Labelle notched his first SJHL goal November 8th against Notre Dame, and doesn't turn 17 until November 17th.
Melfort Mustangs, F
After a slower start to the season, Melfort's Dakota Boutin appears to be finding his usual offensive touch. Boutin was held off the scoresheet in all five games in September, and since then has points in eight of his last 10 games, including three straight games with goals and multiple points as of early November. Boutin already has an NCAA Scholarship locked up to Northern Michigan starting next season, and he's a proven winner. Boutin scored the overtime winner for the Prince Albert Mintos to win a National 'AAA' Midget Championship, and has since helped the Mustangs to back to back Canalta Cup titles.
La Ronge Ice Wolves, F
It hasn't been an easy start to the season for the La Ronge Ice Wolves, but one of the bright spots early on has been 19-year-old forward Tristen Elder. He kicked off the season scoring goals in four of his first five games. The Kinistino, SK product spent most of last season with the WHL's Swift Current Broncos, where he put up two points in 38-games. Prior to his junior career, Elder suited up with the Tisdale Trojans in Midget 'AAA' for two seasons, and had 32-points (16g-16a) in 44-games as a 16-year-old before making the jump to the Ice Wolves the following year.
Melville Millionaires, G
In his first nine starts of the 2016-2017 season, Brandon Wells was 5-4-0, despite facing more than 30 shots in 8 of them. After dropping his first two decisions of the season, Wells gave up three goals or less in his next seven starts (and three only once), and that included a hard-luck loss where he made 51/53 saves in Flin Flon. Before the season, first-year Millionaires' Coach/GM Devin Windle called Wells a big, athletic goalie who appeared ready to become a top-tier puck stopper in the SJHL, and so far 6-foot-2 Spirit River, Alberta product appears right on track.
Kindersley Klippers, F
He came on strong towards the end of last season, and Josh Bly has continued to lead the Kindersley Klippers through the first quarter of his 20-year-old season. The Saskatoon product came up through the 'AAA' ranks with the Battlefords Stars, putting up 65 points (21g-44a) in his 17-year-old season. In his rookie season of Junior, Bly suited up out west with the BCHL's West Kelowna Warriors, and arrived back in his home province with the Klippers last year, finishing with 29-points in just 35 games. Bly is already nearing his goal total from a year ago and if healthy, shouldn't have trouble setting a new career high in points either.
Weyburn Red Wings, G
After two seasons in Kindersley, 20-year-old goalie Nathan Hargrave was moved to Weyburn over the summer, and after mainstay Jack Burgart graduated, the Red Wings haven't seen any kind of downgrade between the pipes with Hargrave through the first month of the season. Through his first nine starts, Hargrave allowed three goals or less in all but one of them, including a pair of shutouts. Fri/Oct/7 against Notre Dame, Hargrave was perfect in a 12 round shootout, and the very next night, posted a 29-save shutout against La Ronge.
Battlefords North Stars, G
There appears to be a goaltending factory in West Central Saskatchewan, and the Battlefords North Stars aren't having to look far from home. A year ago, 17-year-old rookie Taryn Kotchorek, a North Battleford product, asserted himself into the mix and earned minutes with veteran goalies in the fold. This season, another 17-year-old, 1999-born Joel Gryzbowski from Hafford, SK, has been outstanding in the early going. His first four starts produced a pair of shutouts, and just two goals against, for a 0.50 GAA, and .979% (94/96 saves). Gryzbowski put up a .926 save percentage with the Saskatoon Blazers (SMAAAHL) last season.
Flin Flon Bombers, G
It's the goalie panel in this segment this time around, but they've earned it. With the Flin Flon Bombers carrying an extra 20-year-old at the start of the season, Zac Robidoux was the odd man out in the beginning, but since getting back to the crease, Robidoux posted a 3-0-1 record over his first four starts, to go along with a 1.71 GAA, .949% and a shutout. The Winnipeg product had 20 wins and 5 shutouts a year ago, splitting duties with Brenden Newton. Prior to coming to Flin Flon, Robidoux had an RBC Cup under his belt with Portage (MJHL), and also has WHL experience with Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
Melfort Mustangs, F
One player who appears well on track to having a career year is Melfort's Kalem Zary. The 19-year-old sophomore forward had more of a depth role while helping the Mustangs to their second straight Canalta Cup Championship a year ago, putting up 6-goals and 11-points during the season, and adding another 3-goals in the playoffs. He was halfway to last year's totals through the opening weekend of this season, racking up a league-high 3-goals and 5-points through two games against La Ronge.
Estevan Bruins, F
While the Estevan Bruins were loading up to host last year's Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup, team were no doubt offering up their top end players in hopes of landing Lynnden Pastachak in a futures deal for this year. If that was the case, Bruins' Coach/GM Chris Lewgood was obviously having none of it, as Pastachak is back in the fold as a 20-year-old, and has to be in the discussion as a Top 5 choice to win the scoring race. The Bienfait product had 5 points on opening weekend as Estevan won a pair of games against Melville.
Humboldt Broncos, G
The Humboldt Broncos appeared to have great scoring depth heading into the season, and one of their off-season moves including shoring up at the goaltending position, acquiring 20-year-old Garrett Mason from the AJHL's Whitecourt Wolverines. Mason split time between Whitecourt, Spruce Grove and Drayton Valley last year, but combined to have five regular season shutouts. He allowed just five goals on opening weekend, helping the Broncos to a home and home sweep over the Notre Dame Hounds.
The SJHL congratulates our three alumni members of the Frozen Four Champion University Of North Dakota Fighting Hawks!
Coltyn Sanderson (F)
Weyburn Red Wings / UND
Much like his former Weyburn linemate Jesse Ross, who won a Canada West championship with the U of S this season, Sanderson played his first season of junior playing Junior 'B'. Sanderson's 18-year-old season was spent with the PJHL's Assiniboia Southern Rebels. He would join the Red Wings full time the following year, and captain them to a Sherwood Conference championship as a 20-year-old, putting up 81 points (32g-49a) in 57 games. Sanderson had 12-points in 35-games in his senior year at UND.
Matt Hrynkiw (G)
Humboldt Broncos / UND
Hrynkiw and the Broncos beat Sanderson and the Red Wings in the 2012 Final, the year the Broncos hosted the RBC Cup. Now, they shared in an NCAA Frozen Four title together at UND. The Broncos lost in the final to Yorkton in 2013, Hrynkiw's final SJHL season, but that year he posted a 1.83 GAA and .939%. With the Fighting Hawks this season, Hrynkiw went 10-2-2, 2.13 GAA, .910% and two shutouts.
Danys Chartrand (D)
Flin Flon Bombers / UND
With a veteran-laden club that won it all, Chartrand didn't see any regular season or Frozen Four action with UND this season, but should be poised to crack the lineup full time in the fall. The Winnipeg product played 146 SJHL games, all with the Bombers, putting up 50 points. Chartrand will no doubt be paying close attention to his former teammates as they battle the defending champion Melfort Mustangs in the SJHL Canalta Cup Final.