By Dave Leaderhouse
Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League training camps get under way in less than a month, but it has been far from a quiet summer for most of the 12 franchises.
The recent resignations of two of the up-and-coming young coaches in the league – Bryce Thoma with the Weyburn Red Wings and Kevin Hasselberg with the Battlefords North Stars – mirrored what most of the teams were busy with this offseason – filling key vacancies in preparation for the 2016-17 season.
While Thoma’s and Hasselberg’s departures to a higher level captured bigger headlines (the Melville Millionaires also had to search for a new coach when long-time bench boss Jamie Fiesel was not renewed and replaced by Devin Wingle) almost every other club had positions on its staff that had to be filled for a variety of reasons. Office staff, support staff, marketing staff, trainers, therapists – the list goes on. These vacancies have slowly been filled and new coaches in the Battlefords and Weyburn should be announced soon, but it is a lot of work to get a full complement of people in place so having the on-ice operations begin in a matter of weeks should be welcome news to most clubs.
Filling job vacancies hasn’t been the only thing keeping teams busy during the off-season either. Fundraising is a year-round activity with the Flin Flon Bombers having recently completed a successful boat raffle while the Nipawin Hawks have a Pontoon Boat Draw coming up on Aug. 13, the Battlefords North Stars are hosting its annual Golf Classic on Aug. 19 and the La Ronge Ice Wolves will be staging a boat poker rally on Aug. 20. Tickets for the Nipawin draw are available by calling 306-862-4878 with just 550 tickets available, entries for the Battlefords’ Golf Classic are being accepted by calling 306-445-7827 and entry into the La Ronge poker derby can be made by calling 306-425-9669.
All of this leads up to getting back on the ice with most clubs hosting summer hockey camps for young players before main training camps for the parent teams getting underway at the end of August and during the first weekend in September.
A short exhibition season will cover the first two weeks of September before the regular campaign kicks off on Sept. 16 with five games, highlighted by the two-time Canalta Cup champion Melfort Mustangs heading to La Ronge to face the Ice Wolves.
The annual Showcase for players to audition before a large contingent of scouts from various schools and leagues will be held in Warman from Sept. 25-28. Last year’s event was an overwhelming success with a number of players securing spots at a wide variety of schools for this upcoming season.
A lot has changed since the final puck was dropped last spring, but the SJHL continues to move forward in developing its players and staff for what lies ahead. It should be another action-packed campaign and it is set to begin very soon.