By Dave Leaderhouse
There is a very real misconception out there that players from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League often get overlooked for potential scholarship opportunities to various post-secondary institutions.
The league has been very focused on ensuring its players have every chance to get a scholarship as evidenced by the Showcase event held every fall and now the inaugural SJHL/MJHL Player Showcase to be staged in Regina in just over two weeks.
The SJHL has also held several events to raise additional funds for scholarships of their own and through this hard work more and more players are getting a chance to continue playing hockey while getting an advanced education after their junior careers have been completed.
All one has to do is take a look at the rosters of post-secondary hockey teams and it is very apparent that the SJHL is breaking through in a big way.
The Norwich Cadets, an NCAA Division III team located in Vermont, is a great example.
There are presently eight former SJHL players on the roster with most of them enjoying a great deal of success. Coby Downs, formerly of the Battlefords North Stars, has averaged a point-per-game in his first season with Norwich collecting five goals and adding six assists in 11 games; David Robertson, a graduate from the Estevan Bruins, has a goal and an assist in seven games this year, his third with the Cadets; Alec Brandup, a former Melville Millionaire, has two goals and three assists in his final season with Norwich; Ian Williams (Notre Dame Hounds) was the team’s top-scoring rookie a year ago, but so far this season he has no points in just four games; Jake Erickson, a former Battlefords North Star who initially had a Division 1 scholarship with the Air Force Academy, is now in his second season with Norwich and has a goal and two assists in eight games. Michael Korol (Humboldt Broncos), Connor Swystun (Humboldt Broncos) and Josh Cronin (Weyburn Red Wings) are also on the roster with Korol the only one of those three getting in some game action.
Another former SJHL player who has recently come through the Norwich program is goaltender Ty Reichenbach. The former Notre Dame Hound spent three years with the Cadets and is now enjoying a solid season with the Norfolk Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League. Reichenbach was recently named the goalie of the week for the ECHL.
Red Deer College from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference is also a big recruiter from the SJHL with another eight SJHL grads on the current roster. They are: Lynnden Pastachak (Estevan) 6-8-14 in 14 games; Nick Fountain (Battlefords) 1-0-1 in 12 games; David Heath (Nipawin and Melfort) 1-2-3 in 12 games; Tyler Podgorenko (Melville and Notre Dame) 2-4-6 in 9 games; Donovan Lumb (Weyburn) 0-4-4 in 13 games; Mike Statchuk (Battlefords) 0-3-3 in 8 games; Jacob Wozney (Weyburn) 1-3-4 in 14 games; Chase Thudium (Nipawin) 5-6-11 in 14 games.
The University of Regina Cougars is another college that pays close attention to the SJHL with as many as 10 former players on the roster. Kirk Bear (Melfort), Corwin Stevely (Yorkton), Tristan Frei (Melfort), Ian McNulty (Melville), Carter Hansen (Melfort), Lucas Nagel (La Ronge), Ben Duperreault (Notre Dame),
Tyson Predinchuk (Estevan) and Dawson MacAuley (Yorkton) have all seen action with the Cougars this season.
The University of Alaska at Anchorage has a quartet of former SJHL players and the Rochester Institute of Technology has three– both of which are NCAA Division 1 schools. Former Flin Flon standout Eric Sinclair has two goals and two assists in 18 games with Alaska this year while Tad Kozun, a former Nipawin Hawk, is in his final year at Alaska and has 10 points in 18 games. Another Nipawin grad, Kristian Stead, was last year’s most valuable player in the SJHL, but he has yet to see any action in his rookie season in Alaska. Brandon Switzer, who spent two seasons with the Bombers, has appeared in six games for Alaska this year. Jason Lavallee, who played last year with Flin Flon, was originally offered a scholarship with Alaska, but has returned closer to home attending the University of Quebec-Trois Rivieres. The Thetford Mines native has 10 points in 15 games with his new club.
The RIT roster has been led by the Norrish twins – Brady and Chase – for the last four years and this season another Yorkton grad, Regan Seiferling, has donned the Tigers’ colors. Seiferling has three assists in seven games with RIT while Brady Norrish has been limited to just one game and Chase has four points in 13 contests.
One can’t forget the University of North Dakota, which last year had three former SJHL players help them claim the NCAA championship. All three of those players are no longer on the roster, but former Estevan Bruin defenceman Josh Rieger is with the team and has two assists in seven games. Matt Hrynkiw, the 2012-2013 SaskTel goalie of the year in the SJHL, has become the UND goaltending coach after graduating from the program last spring.
There are so many other former players plying their skills at various schools – and at various levels. Former Flin Flon defenceman Cory Thomas is with the University of Vermont, ex-La Ronge forward Sebastian Beauregard is now at McGill University after three years with the University of Windsor and the hulking Ian Parker (Weyburn) is enjoying a strong season at the University of Windsor with 10 points in 16 games.
There were a couple of surprises in researching where the former players are at. The 2015 MVP, Kris Joyce of the La Ronge Ice Wolves, had a fantastic season at the University of Windsor last year, but this season he is playing with the Quesnel Kangaroos of the Central Interior Hockey League back in British Columbia. Adam Dawe, last season’s rookie of the year from the Notre Dame Hounds, was committed to the University of Maine, but is spending this year with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League.
Numerous others are attending schools all over North America and not all are playing hockey. There are opportunities for SJHL players to continue playing the game beyond the junior level, but more importantly the chance to get a post-secondary education is out there if that is the path to be chosen.
The SJHL isn’t glossed over any longer. Rather it is becoming a place where schools are paying more attention to what kind of players and students are being groomed here.