Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

SJHL Weekly – Mustangs preparing to close out Round Robin

(Photo credit to Heather Pollock)

OAKVILLE, ON – It is so far so good for the Melfort Mustangs at the 2024 Centennial Cup.

A solid 60-minute effort yielded a 4-1 win in Game 1 over the Maritime Champion Miramichi Timberwolves last Thursday, and then an epic heavy-weight tilt went Melfort’s way as they pulled out a 6-5 shootout victory over the Manitoba champion Winkler Flyers Saturday.

“You know, it’s been a great experience,” said veteran Mustangs’ defenceman Nolan Henderson.

“I think all of us were a little bit starstruck when we showed up here. We’ve been getting great treatment from all the staff at the tournament and everything else, but it’s been crazy (in a good way). I think we’ve all just been taking it all in, and obviously, our play on the ice has been pretty good too. We’re 2-0, so really happy with the start we’ve had.”



The Mustangs have received contributions offensively from up and down the line-up in the two contests, as six different players have found the back of the net so far. Additionally, the power play has clicked at a strong clip of 5-for-14, or 36%.

Yet as much as the offence finding its way with 5 goals/game at the tournament thus far, the health and confidence of the experienced Melfort blue line in front of all-SJHL goaltender James Venne has been just as critical.

“James Venne is usually making the right save at the right moment,” said Mustangs’ head coach Trevor Blevins.

“You know, he comes up big. He’s a competitor. I think part of his makeup is the fact that he just hates losing, I think he hates losing more than he likes winning. So I think for him, it’s that competitiveness within his mindset that sets him apart.

“Having a really healthy defence corps (for the first time in a long time) is huge,” Henderson said.

“Guys like Ty Thornton (who we were missing for a while), he’s a huge part of our backend and having a guy like him (and Nolan Roberts back) is massive for sure.”

Much was made pre-tournament about the adjustment to the Olympic-sized ice surface in Oakville, and while there have been the normal lapses in concentration that every hockey team has every night, the Mustangs do not seem to have missed a beat with the more time and space.

In the two games, Coach Trevor Blevins’ men have out-chanced the opponents 28-22 in terms of dangerous opportunities, have a full one more expected goals, have retrieved on average 15 more loose pucks all over the ice per game, and have averaged 13 more clean zone entries with puck possession per game.

So, a learning curve? Perhaps. But still, so far so good.

“It’s definitely hard to get used to,” Henderson admitted.

“I think the first couple of our practices on the big rink, we tried to focus on making cross-ice passes and doing stuff with a lot more space out there. And I think in the games…you don’t realize how much time you have with the puck essentially. And, you know, you can skate it out and do all these pretty things with the puck. So I think we definitely just kind of got to focus on the fact that we have a lot more time out there. Don’t need to be throwing it away. And one of the biggest things I think is during playoffs, you’d be talking to your partner in the D zone and whatnot and couldn’t hear them because the fans were so loud. But here, you can hear everything everybody says, so communication is going to be a big factor.”

Up next for the Mustangs is a clash with the Superior International Junior Hockey League champion Sioux Lookout Bombers.

While the Bombers from Northern Ontario have been eliminated from Centennial Cup playoff contention, they have been tight every game, tough to play against, and are not in any way considered an easy out by the Saskatchewan champs.

“We’re going to prepare best we can here,” Blevins said, “We’re not taking any opponent lightly, and nor should we at this stage of the year.

“There is the challenge of making sure the preparations there for sure mentally to come out and compete as hard as you can and we are certainly going to focus on Sioux Lookout as far as how hard they work. They’ve been in every hockey game, and I feel they’ve got some guys that can really skate and forecheck hard and they’re playing a sound defensive game. They have been tough to score against with other teams that we’ve seen, so we’ll be ready to go. I mean, we can’t go through the motions and think that it’s going to be easy at any point, and they have some firepower too. They have a very hard work ethic, and team effort, that brings strong defensive play, and what I’ve seen is they’re not an easy opponent to play against.”

The Mustangs will face these Bombers at 10:00 A.M. Saskatchewan Time, noon local Tuesday, before closing out the Group Stage in prime time Wednesday vs. the host Oakville Blades.

Melfort currently sits in second place in Group B, one point behind Miramichi, though with a game-in-hand.

Listen to a quick update with Coach Trevor Blevins from practice Monday here.