By Dave Leaderhouse
Under normal conditions the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season would be something special.
These, unfortunately, aren’t normal conditions.
With training camps just days away from opening the SJHL is ready to embark on its 50th season under its current structure. That’s a pretty significant milestone, but the continued recovery of the league, country and community of Humboldt following the tragic bus crash earlier this year that decimated the Broncos franchise overshadows that achievement.
“The SJHL has been around for a very long time,” says league president Bill Chow. “There is a deep connection between the SJHL and the province of Saskatchewan and we are really excited to get it going, but I think we have to get to December first.”
The reason for that is simple: a huge spotlight will be on the Broncos as the process of rebuilding one of the most successful franchises in Junior “A” history continues.
Nathan Oystrick has been brought in as head coach and general manager of the franchise, replacing Darcy Haugan who was one of 16 people who lost their lives in the April tragedy. Oystrick and his staff are being charged with putting together a roster that can only draw from a handful of players eligible to return to the team with the remainder either having perished in the crash or graduated from junior ranks.
The Broncos will break from their camp next week and have a series of exhibition games in Alberta before opening the season on Sept. 12 against the Nipawin Hawks, a game that will be televised nationally on TSN.
It will certainly be an emotional stretch for the team and during the initial part of the regular schedule those emotions will continue to run high as the Broncos visit each of the other 11 teams for the first time. Everyone shared in the grief back in April and continues to show their support today.
Chow says that because of these circumstances, along with a shortage of manpower from a league standpoint, the 50th anniversary will be recognized, just maybe not at a level that is traditionally attached to such a major milestone.
“We will be recognizing it internally,” says Chow. “All players will wear a patch on their jerseys and digital boards around the league will promote it. There has also been a special book that has been put together. Maybe later we can do something else.”
Humboldt isn’t the only team entering the season with new leadership as a quarter of the franchises underwent coaching changes in the offseason. In addition to Oystrick taking over the Broncos, Brayden Klimosko returns to the SJHL as the new man in charge of the Battlefords North Stars, Clayton Jardine takes over the Kindersley Klippers and Phil Roy assumes responsibility of running the Notre Dame Hounds.
Chow notes that these changes bring a whole bunch of expectations to each franchise and they will join everyone else in chasing down the Nipawin Hawks, who for the first time in 28 years are the defending Canalta Cup champions.
“It is always a competitive league and the first month usually tells the tale,” says Chow.
Included in that first month is the annual Showcase, which returns to Warman this year after being relocated to Saskatoon last season. The Showcase has all 12 teams converge on one location for four days offering scouts from various levels of the game an opportunity to see everyone and evaluate possible prospects for their respective programs.
A second get together of scouts and players will occur in January when the hugely successful Saskatchewan/Manitoba Showcase will take place in Regina.
The SJHL actually dates back to before World War II, but this current incarnation has endured 50 incredible seasons. More than anything else it has survived numerous bumps in the road to become one of the premiere development leagues in the country and this season will certainly be a test of its survival characteristics.