~Written by Jamie Neugebauer (@Neugsie)
A sure sign of the health of a junior hockey league is whether local elite players aspire to play in it and that the Battlefords North Stars have acquired the commitment of Holden Doell is absolutely a win for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in that regard.
Doell, a 2003-born native of Martensville, SK, ripped up the Sask U-18 loop in 2019-2020, leading the AAA league in assists (51) and points (77) in 42 games with his Beardy’s Blackhawks.
A first-rounder of the North Stars in the 2018 SJHL draft, he had opportunities to play all over North America, but for Holden home is where the heart is.
“I am a huge ‘family guy’,” he says.
“I like to be close to them and it’ll be nice for them to come to watch my games, and that I’ll be able to go home for a weekend or whatever helped a lot in my decision to pick the Stars and the SJ.”
Brayden Klimosko, his new head coach in Battlefords calls him a well-above-average skater and a dual-threat shooter and passer who projects to be reliable in all situations at the junior level.
Klimosko got a good look during 19-20 when the 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward was called up for three games in the campaign in which the Stars topped out at No. 1 overall in the Canadian Junior A rankings.
“We’re ecstatic (about getting Doell),” Klimosko says.
“He’s an elite scorer, can play a 200-foot game, and just as impressively, is such a highly driven, highly motivated competitor. His maturity level is just off the charts.”
Doell’s maturity comes quickly to the surface when asked about the transition to the SJHL level from U-18, noting that success habits are born during preparation, not just in-game reps.
“It’s a big jump, obviously I’ll need to get stronger and make quicker plays,” he says.
“But I think practice is a big part of it, you have to practice at the speed you are going play, especially since we’ve been off for a year. I just need to be ready, practice hard, and when the first game comes, I want to do all I can to be ready for the speed and physicality of the SJ.”
Another layer of motivation for the 17-year-old who will not turn 18 until December is that older brother Nolan is a key piece of a La Ronge Ice Wolves team looking to make a serious run this upcoming season at an SJHL championship.
While Holden makes no promises of what fireworks will go off when they line up against each other in 21-22, that match-up has been a regular topic of conversation at the dinner table in the Doell household.
“I am super excited (to face Nolan and the Ice Wolves),” Holden says.
“My brother and I have had a few talks about that, and we’ll have a little brother rivalry. He chirps me a lot because he thinks they’re going to be pretty good next year, but I think we’ll give a run for their money so I am super excited. He is more of the physical player, but I just think he should be ready to play, and hopefully, I’ll have one of my best games when we play them. We just want to show them who Battlefords is, and all I care about is that we get the win when we play against them.”
With the relocation of Beardy’s U18s to Warman after 19-20, Doell elected to transfer to the Saskatoon Blazers U18s for the 20-21 season and notched five points in two games before the year came crashing to a halt due to the pandemic.
Since that time, he has been hitting the ice and gym hard to prepare for his first full-time foray into junior hockey, in which he looks to immediately be an important piece of the puzzle for a Battlefords organization used to winning.
“Brayden (Kilmosko) is a really good coach and has won a lot the last few years,” he says. “I feel the organization has treated me really well the last couple of years as a prospect so I felt like it was the best place for me to go. (My time as a call-up) made a big impression. You see how they handle their players, treat them, and being one of the top teams, they had a top staff and organization in total, and it influenced me a lot because it was really cool. Just to get the junior experience in a place like that, it was awesome and I can’t wait to get going.”