By Dave Leaderhouse
The La Ronge Ice Wolves got a taste of the good life last year and now they want more.
After three consecutive seasons without a spot in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s post-season, the Ice Wolves made a return to the second season after posting a 26-24-4-4 record in a regular season that can only be described as a roller-coaster.
“We definitely want to play with more consistency,” notes La Ronge head coach and general manager Shawn Martin. “We started the season 3-10-1 and then went on a 14-game unbeaten streak. We have to be more level.”
“Winning the first round (three-game sweep over the Yorkton Terriers in the Wild Card Series) was nice, but I think being swept in four straight by Melfort (in the quarter-finals) left a sour taste in our mouth,” added Martin.
The Ice Wolves return a large part of their roster, but the biggest absence will be league most valuable player Kris Joyce, who has graduated from the junior ranks and will start his collegiate career this season at the University of Windsor. Joyce was lights out last year appearing in 50 games and sporting a 2.67 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
Joyce played more than 300 minutes than any other goaltender in the league and he faced a staggering 1922 shots, again outdistancing his closest rival by more than 500 shots.
With Joyce moving on the netminding duties will now be turned over to Dakota Kenyon, a 19-year-old from Lloydminster who saw action in just 11 games last season. Martin says Kenyon will be competing for the starting job with Josh Dechaine and Luke Lush, all three of which Martin says he is confident they can play in the league.
Also gone from last year are the two leading scorers in Cole Porter and Matt Painchaud. Porter will be attending Wilfred Laurier University while Painchaud was dealt to the Calgary Canucks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Braden Jakubowski was also moved to the AJHL landing in Drayton Valley earlier in the summer while team captain Joel Blaquiere graduated from the junior ranks.
With all of those key losses, Martin is confident the club will build on its success from last year.
“Up front I think we will be as strong as we have ever been and we have five returning on “D” which never hurts,” says Martin. “Our weakness is we have a lot of good young guys, but they are unproven.”
Anchoring the blueline will be Bryce Fiske, who is returning for a third year and won’t turn 19 until early November. Tanner Reynolds, who came over to the Ice Wolves last season in a deal with Weyburn, and Trevor Bush will also be counted on heavily to protect the back end.
Jared Blaquiere will be one of the leaders up front and newly acquired Josh Hayward, who spent last season with the Kindersley Klippers, has had a strong pre-season. More will also be expected from Nick Prouty and Toby Shattler and throw in a strong mix of newcomers and the Ice Wolves are ready to keep moving forward.
“Going off last season we definitely want to turn the page,” said Martin.
The Ice Wolves will begin the season playing seven of their first 10 games on the road so it will be a test getting everyone working together as a unit away from the friendly confines. If they do what is expected of them during that stretch they will then have six straight games at home to try and get to another level.