While the SJHL spins its wheels on relaying a start date for this season to its teams and communities, one junior team in northern Manitoba has already gotten their season going - the OCN Blizzard.
Northern Manitoba’s only representative in the MJHL opened their season with a home-and-home set against the Swan Valley Stampeders Oct. 9-10, with both games ending in Swan Valley wins - 6-3 Oct. 9 at the Gordon Lathlin Memorial Centre and 6-2 a night later at Swan River Centennial Arena.
The Blizzard’s season started hot, with their first goal in the time of COVID-19 coming just 14 seconds into the game. Jaden Pashe, a veteran forward from Portage la Prairie, opened the scoring. The Stamps answered back throughout the period, first with a goal from Cody Barnes, then another from Parker Johnson. In the last minute of the first, rookie Michael Hlady tied the game up for the Blizzard, scoring his first-ever junior A goal in his first game up north.
That was as close as OCN would get Friday night. Swan Valley would rhyme off four goals over the second period and first half of the third, with only a goal late in the game by OCN’s Levi Thiessen slowing the onslaught down. The Stamps, who boast a northerner of their own in Thompson’s Jamie Valentino, finished with the win - Valentino ended the game with two assists.
A day later, the Blizzard headed south for the return date with the Stamps. Swan Valley picked up where they left off, with a pair of first period goals from Noah Fladager and Alex Danis. Blizzard captain Ben Hilhorst and lanky newcomer David Queree tied the game in the second with powerplay goals, but Swan Valley ran away again in the second half of the game, getting four more tallies. Tensions boiled over at several points during the game, with a fight and 90 minutes in total penalties levied out.
Swan Valley goalie Mikael Foucher got the dub both nights, making 83 saves on 88 shots in total. Blizzard first choice goalie Danick Rodrigue got the call both nights, ending the first night being pulled for backup Nik Jerris and getting stuck with both losses - 32 saves the first night, 25 the next.
The Blizzard will play most of their games this season against their Northwest division foes - Swan Valley, the Dauphin Kings and the Waywayseecappo Wolverines. With the exception of two games at home against the Virden Oil Capitals Nov. 6-7 and two games in Steinbach against the Pistons Dec. 18-19, the Blizzard will play every game before Christmas against their division rivals.
OCN will face the Stamps again this weekend - Oct. 16 at the Lathlin and Oct. 17 in Swan River.