~ Written by SJHL Staff
With the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Warman Showcase in the rear-view mirror, we now have a little tiny bit of a clearer picture of the way the clubs stack up. Here is the Who’s hot, who’s cold: Precise Temp Power Rankings, Post-Showcase edition.
1. Melfort Mustangs (5-1-1) – Head Coach and GM Trevor Blevins has his men playing the tried, tested, and true low-mistake, organized Mustangs brand of hockey from the start. Only one of three teams to nab two wins at the Showcase, Melfort comes at you with a very balanced, very experienced squad, though the best player on the team might be second-year goaltender Joel Favreau – still technically a rookie – who leads the league in starter goals-against-average and is second in save percentage. Is 2002-born centreman Ben Tkachuk the best all-around forward in the SJHL? There is an argument.
2. Battlefords North Stars (5-1-1) – This writer took some slack for heaping praise on Brayden Klimosko’s team pre-season, so here’s some vindication. The Stars also took two victories at the Showcase, a blowout of Melville, and survival against the bad-luck Terriers, but scored a whopping 15 goals in the process. This team averages a whopping 5.3 goals-for-per-game, and even though their goaltending has just been ‘fine’, this team also simply knows how to win when it is closing time. Great to see the last 2018-19 Canalta Cup champ in the league, Dylan Esau, get rewarded for his textbook 200-feet play over his career with nine points on the year so far, and there are just are no lines off when facing the Stars. Klimosko and assistant Gary Childerhose have done just an outstanding job so far; which is no surprise to anyone who knows them.
3. Humboldt Broncos (4-2-0) – Maybe the start of the year was just a bit too easy for the Broncos, but Scott Barney’s big green machine proved a little human heading into the Showcase, and then made eyebrows raise by a loss to the Weyburn Red Wings to kick it off. Nevertheless, a gutsy, character win over Estevan on the last day of the Warman event with plenty of key pieces out belies the great soul of this team, and there should be no concern that they will be absolutely fine and at the top or thereabouts all year long. Rayce Ramsay is outstanding in the net, and new acquisitions Connor McGrath and Alec Saretzky have been everything Broncos fans could have hoped for and more as secondary scorers to the dominant Logan Kurki.
4. Estevan Bruins (3-2-0) – Two losses at the Showcase surprised some people, but as talent-laden as this squad is – and it is LOADED, don’t be mistaken by the Showcase – it is fair to assume that cohesion will take a little time. Mark Rumsey’s one-shot scoring ability is undoubted, and a partnership with the speedster Olivier Pouliot looks destined to be a success. If they expected the year to come easy, even subconsciously, then they are in trouble – but it’s way, way too early to be worried. Expect Jason Tatarnic to keep tinkering with this Centennial Cup-hosting squad that will have to deal with all the expectations that come with it.
5. Nipawin Hawks (5-2-0) – The Hawks came into the Showcase as probably the No. 1 team, but looked stunned by the ferocity with which the Notre Dame Hounds came at them in the first period of their Game 1 in Warman. The ship was rightened by a near-comeback, and a strong 65-minute performance in a Game 2 overtime win vs. Weyburn (in which the Wings’ young goalie almost stole it), but the process is right on track for Doug Johnson’s swarming, intense style. There are not a ton of one-shot snipers on this team, but a young gun that really, really impressed at the Showcase was former Battlefords Stars AAA man Carson Dobson, and there are good players all over this squad.
6. Flin Flon Bombers (4-3-0) – It was not a great Showcase for Mike Reagan’s men, but much like Estevan, there is a lot of talent here that have never played in Saskatchewan. A narrow win over Yorkton in which Cal Schell was magnificent in net was followed by a narrow loss vs. Kindersley, in which Kindersley’s young goaltender Brett Sweet was the star of the show. There is too much talent, and Reagan is too good of a coach, for there to be any need of concern from those results, and we all know the long-time Flin Flon GM will keep adding good players to this good group. Jaeden Mercier has a skillset that screams Division I NCAA, D1 committed defenceman Xavier Lapointe (RIT) is off to an excellent start, and this will be a fun, electric team to watch very soon.
7. La Ronge Ice Wolves (3-4-0) – There is that old hockey adage that “goaltending is 50 percent of hockey until you don’t have it, and then it’s 80”; and with the turn of Xavier Cannon to the net, the Wolves are firmly back in that 50 percent range. The veteran B.C. native won both of his team’s emotional games at the Showcase in his return from injury, including a wild one in Game 1 vs. Estevan, and the Wolves are an incredible 15-1-1 in the regular season over the last three years with Cannon in the net. The line of Nolan Doell, Holden Knights, and Aaron Greyeyes might be the best in the SJHL, and Gavin Mattey might have been the best player at the Showcase.
8. Notre Dame Hounds (3-4-0) – The first 20 minutes vs. Nipawin in Game 1 at the Showcase gave the world a glimpse of coach/GM Brett Pilkington’s vision for this team: energy, skill, tenacity; it was all there and the Hounds could have been up more than 2-0 before a bizarre ice issue that made the Hounds and Hawks finish their game at a totally different rink in town. Princeton NCAA Division I commit Kevin Anderson is the youngest captain in the league and has been brilliant in all three zones of the ice while leading the league in assists and points through seven games. His line-mates Elliot Dutil and Connor Nolan both have shown great touch around the net, and after a slow start the year, the Hounds have won three of their last four. Another 2003, the defenceman Jaryd Sych, logs a lot of minutes with newcomer Sam Kroon; but that pair has been as reliable as any in the SJHL so far. Nobody in the league blocks shots as well as ND defenceman Trey Taylor. This is the youngest team in the league, so it will be on them to learn the consistency needed to get results night in and night out.
9. Weyburn Red Wings (1-2-1) – New head coach/GM Cody Mapes had a big job heading into the year with the last-second departure of Rich Pilon, but after a dramatic win over Humboldt and a hard-fought overtime point vs. Nipawin, the ship seems to be heading in the right direction. In Joe Young and Dazza Mitchell, the Wings might have the best one-two punch in net in the SJHL, and this is the physically dominant Braden Birnie we’ve been waiting for upfront since he joined the league. Western Hockey League vet Cayde Augustine has been very steady in playing massive minutes for the Wings so far, but goals still seem hard for this team to come by. Lots of eyes on 2005-born Ty Mason, who made the team out of camp, but has found the regular season a lot tougher than the pre-season. Still, this team is playing its heart out.
10. Kindersley Klippers (3-4-0) – This is not a bad roster, but the biggest problem coach/GM Ken Plaquin seems to have, is that he can’t know which group of Klippers will show up on a given night. Newcomer Charles Obobaifo has been an offensive revelation, while an injury has limited potential star Logan Linklater to one goal through four games. Captain Mark Snarr has been immense as a defence-first defender, and the win over Flin Flon at the Showcase should be great momentum for this team. They also believe in their goaltending with veteran Matt Pesenti and Brett Sweet off to decent starts.
11. Yorkton Terriers (1-6-0) – To watch coach Matt Hehr’s men play it is almost inconceivable that they are only 1-6 because their performances have not been bad…but as the great football coach Bill Parcells said: “You are what your record says you are”. No team has had to kill more penalties in the league, and especially with Kishaun Gervais suspended to start the year, goals have not been easy to come by. Young local 2003 forward Clay Sleeva has been a revelation to start the year, posting eight points through seven, while veteran Tyson Janzen continues to impress in his end while adding an offensive touch from the back end. They did score five of their 19 goals on the year at the time of writing in their final game of the Showcase, a wild 6-5 loss to the Battlefords North Stars, so maybe the offence is coming around. Steve Norum is easily a Top 3 defensive forward in the SJHL.
12. Melville Millionaires (0-2-1) – All the well-documented off-ice turmoil to start the year in Melville means the Mils should actually be applauded for the way they have performed. Three grueling games in around 24 hours were played from last Sunday night in Kindersley to Tuesday morning in Warman was how they started the season, so there really is no fair way to judge this team so far. Slippery, skillful forward Noah Wills seems to impress every time he touches the ice and with the likes of captain Jonathan Krahn, and vets Nic Porterfield and Zach McIntyre leading the line, there should be goals in this Melville team – the only question will be whether they can keep them out. They lost to a veteran-laden Melfort team in overtime in Game 2 after running out of gas in Game 1 vs. Battlefords, but it’ll be a while before anyone knows what this Mils squad is really about.