Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Golden Sheaf: Mustangs’ Sleeva passion for hockey and farming on par

To watch Clay Sleeva regularly is to understand that everything he does on the ice is with the passion that comes from one genuinely enthusiastic to play the game.

One quick conversation with the 20-year-old Melfort Mustang betrays the fact that he has that same enthusiasm for farming, his southeast Saskatchewan family’s vocation for generations.

“I 100 percent (see myself farming for the rest of my life),” he says, with that classic Sleeva grin.

“I love the farm. Hockey has done a lot for me and I have enjoyed my time playing it but at the end of the day, I want to be on the farm. I want to help my dad and uncle as long as they need me to, and I have that goal of taking over one day while playing that great senior hockey we have here in Sask.”

A native of Canora, SK just about 50 kilometres north of Yorkton, Sleeva grew up in the Yorkton minor hockey system while helping out on the family crop farm that focuses on oats, barley, wheat, and canola.

A Terriers’ youth player all the way up, he spent the Covid-shortened 2020-21 Sask U18 campaign with the Tisdale Trojans, not far from Melfort. He then began his Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League career the next season closer to home as a part of a scrappy young Yorkton Terriers junior squad that went on to upset the Mustangs in the first round of the post-season.

He went on to play in 148 games for his hometown team, but Melfort head coach and general manager Trevor Blevins is quoted as saying that he never lost the interest and appreciation of the 2003-born forward.

On Dec. 10, 2023, Blevins and Yorkton boss Emery Olauson pulled off a truly terrific trade that worked out well for both organizations. Melfort got his guy in Sleeva but paid a heavy price as breakout 19-year-old centreman David Coyle and two highly-regarded prospects in U18 went back to the orange and black.

Both Coyle and Sleeva ended up at the 2024 SJHL/MJHL Showcase in Winnipeg.

“It was really fun playing close to home,” he says, “and staying close to the farm so on days off I could go home and help as much as I could.”

“I was pretty excited though (to be traded to Melfort),” he adds.

“The trade deadline was coming and (Olauson and I) were going through different scenarios where I might go, but we narrowed it down and they worked out a deal. I was more than happy to go to the Mustangs, Trevor is a great coach who has trusted in me a lot, and so while it was really a hard decision to leave the Terriers and my family, I would have been happy to end my SJHL career in Yorkton, but it certainly has turned out well.”

Centring one of, if not the best lines in the league this year between fellow veterans Aidyn Hutchinson and Ryan Duguay, the unit has combined for 44 points in only 11 playoff games at the time of this writing. Sleeva’s pace, tenacity, and heavy game – despite his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame – fits perfectly with the slick skill of Hutchinson and the power forward tools and offensive instincts of Duguay. They are as fearsome a line as any the league has seen this millennium.

“I think we click so well,” Sleeva says of the trio.

“We all have something special to bring to the line. We connected well the second we were put together and certainly with them I feel like I have really found my groove.”

Sleeva has nine points in 11 post-season games this year, but it’s in the details, like on the farm, where he shines even brighter.

He leads the team at a smouldering clip of 56 percent on the face-off dot, has blocked the second most shots of any Mustang forward, and is third in plus-minus rating in the playoffs at plus-nine. He also kills penalties and is relied on in all situations.

That correlation between his role on the ice, and the success of his family’s farm off it, is crystal clear to him.

“I think it speaks for itself in that this is the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, and farming is the biggest thing you can do for work in Saskatchewan,” he says.

“It is a big connection, and it is nice that the SJHL is recognizing that farming is a big part of the league (through the Canterra Seeds Golden Sheaf Program). There are a lot of farm kids that play in the league, and usually, coaches love them because farm kids are tough and they work hard. (Hockey and farming) go hand in hand.”

In addition to helping out with the family business, last year during the season Clay started working for JDC AG, a family-run feedlot and grain operation near Yorkton.

Think Sleeva has enough agriculture?

Guess again; his favourite video game is Farming Simulator on his XBOX.

Surely, as much as he is all-in on bringing a championship to Melfort, he is also all-in on farming.

Find Co-director of Media Clark Munroe’s interview with Clay here.