Death, taxes and a competitive Sherwood Division. Some things in this world are certain.
For the past five seasons, at least one team from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Sherwood Division has made the league finals. Five times in the last decade, a Sherwood squad has grabbed the crown.
Last season, the Nipawin Hawks had the league’s best regular season record, while the Mustangs fell in the finals to Battlefords. In the SJHL quarterfinals, the Flin Flon Bombers fought back from being down 3-0 to give the North Stars all they could handle in their best-of-seven series.
Now, those three Sherwood teams head into the 2019-20 season looking to retune and be successful. They are joined by the La Ronge Ice Wolves, who are hoping new head coach and former National Hockey League player Kevin Kaminski can guide them to the playoffs for just the second time in seven seasons.
The Bombers (34-20-1-3 last season) return nine players from last year’s talented squad. Up front, Donavan Houle-Villeneuve is the top returning scorer after finishing sixth on the Bombers last season with 46 points, including 18 goals, in 51 games. Caleb Franklin is also back after posting 25 points in 44 games. Newcomer Cole Rafuse, who captained the major junior Acadie-Bathurst Titan, is among the top newcomers. On the backend, the solid Mason Martin leads the defence, while Jacob Delorme is back in net.
The squad, which starts the season with a home-and-home weekend series against La Ronge, will be once again be led by head coach and general manager Mike Reagan. The hometown product and former Bomber enters his 13th season leading the squad and holds the team record with 374 coaching victories. Including Reagan, the Sherwood Division has three of the longest tenured coaches in the league. Let’s take a look at how the Bombers’ foes are shaping up.
The Mustangs (37-17-4-0 last season) are retuning after many key players, including SJHL Player of the Year Carson Albrecht and SJHL top scorer Justin Ball, the league’s MVP, aged out. However, Rick Oakes, the team’s director of player development, said this group of horses is young, talented and deep. As the team will be younger, Oakes said of the 11 players back from last season’s finals squad, “We are going to lean on our veteran guys a lot.”
While this season the Mustangs might not boast an explosive goal scorer like Ball, who had a league-high 54, Oakes said the team believes it has talent up front who can score. Last season’s top returning forward scorers are Zach Anderson (16 goals and 32 points), Kenzie Arnold (12 goals and 32 points), Zack Smith (21 points) and Tyson Meyers (20 points).
The backend could be Melfort’s strength early on. The team returns Jake Hobson (35 points), Nolan Kadachuk and Gabe Odowichuk, as well as Alex Rondeau, who the Mustangs recently reacquired. Behind them, Shawn Parkinson returns in net. He posted a 1.91 goals-against-average last season after being added in a trade. The Mustangs had three young goaiels battling to back him up, including hometown product Tanner Martin who helped the Tisdale Trojans to the bronze medal at the national Telus Cup.
Head coach and general manager Trevor Blevins is 20 wins away from becoming the Mustangs franchise wins leader. He would pass his former boss Darrell Mann, who led the Trojans last season.
Hawks head coach and general manager Doug Johnson needs only two victories to become the winningest coach in Hawks history. He would pass Bruce Thompson, who coached Johnson on the Hawks in the 1990s.
Johnson enters this season with a veteran-heavy bunch. Twelve players return from last year’s team that went 38-15-2-3 in the regular season.
“I’m most excited about the depth we have up front and the shape all the guys showed up in,” Johnson said. “You can tell the players took their offseason seriously and are excited about the new year.”
The Hawks have five of their top six scorers back from last season. That group includes top scorer Austen Flaman (19 goals and 44 points) as well as Jordan Simoneau (33 points), Jake Tremblay (33 points), Carson Erhardt (28) and Brodie Girod (26). The squad will be without Jaxsen Wiebe. After posting 26 points as a rookie, he has joined the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels.
At the blue line, there will be a number of new faces with captain Gage Misskey aging out and several others departing. Jack Lenchyshyn and Luke Penner return and former Estevan Bruin Bronson Adams looks to be a contributor.
Last season the Hawks received outstanding goaltending from Declan Hobbs and Patrick Pugliese, who were first and second in the league in save percentage respectively. Hobbs has aged out and Pugliese has opted to play in the North American Hockey League. As of last week, the Hawks had Justin Vertesi, Scott Bird and Caden Wilson battling for playing time between the pipes.
La Ronge Ice Wolves
A Churchbridge, Sask. product, Kaminski said he is excited to be back in Saskatchewan and wants to enjoy the journey with the players the team chooses.
“This group excites me because they care and have a great work ethic and compete level and want to learn and get better every day,” he said.
Kaminski and his staff have brought in several new players to compete for positions. A number of athletes from the British Columbia junior B ranks were in camp.
Kaminski expects to have about 10 players back from last season’s team, which went 12-44-1-1. That group could include Zach Bannister, who paced the team with 28 goals and 70 points a season ago, and Shane Hounsell, who spent part of the last campaign in the Western Provinces Hockey Association.
After a long pro career, Kaminski has coached in various pro and junior leagues. He was a fan favourite in four seasons with the NHL’s Washington Capitals. He had a goal, two assists, and 164 penalty minutes in 54 games for the Caps in 1995-1996. A combative forward, Kaminski usually wore a letter for his teams in the minor pro ranks.
Global Ag Risk Solutions Division
Last season Brayden Klimosko, as a rookie head coach, led the Battlefords North Stars (35-13-5-5) to their second championship in three seasons. The former Humboldt Broncos player and assistant coach could have as many as 13 players back from that squad.
After five seasons as a Bombers assistant coach, including going to two SJHL finals, Garry Childerhose gets the opportunity to lead the Kindersley Klippers (36-14-4-2). He will have at least two familiar faces as the team recently acquired ex-Bombers Dawson McKenzie and Jacob Schnapp.
Following a season where all eyes were on them following the devastating April 6, 2018 bus crash, the Humboldt Broncos (35-19-3-1) are looking to compete with a youthful roster. Vets such as Logan Foster and Bryson Cecconi will be counted on to lead the way. It will be head coach Scott Barney’s first season in charge. Crash survivor Graysen Cameron is looking to contribute to the club after a season away.
The Notre Dame Hounds (25-23-5-5) look to be a young group with a core of such players as Kyle Robinson, Jarrett Penner, Hardy Wagner and Riley Kohonick. Captain Jared Hamm will be looked upon for offensive production and leadership.
The Estevan Bruins (31-22-3-2) are expected to have a crop of talented young forwards, such as 16-year-old Cal Caragata. The squad has some decisions to make when it comes to goaltending as number of strong netminders have been in camp.
The Yorkton Terriers (31-26-1-0) will try to build upon their playoff success of upsetting the top-seeded Nipawin Hawks in the SJHL quarterfinals. The team loses a number of key contributors from that squad but return top scorer Chantz Petruic (32 goals and 84 points) and goaltender Ryan Ouellette, who was strong in the playoffs.
After taking over partway through last season, Kyle Adams has had the interim tag removed from his position as head coach of the Melville Millionaires (16-32-6-4). He has tabbed 20-year-old Aidan Steinke (28 points, fourth on the team last year) to lead the way as captain.
Former NHL defenceman Rich Pilon, who spent most of his career with the New York Islanders, takes over as the head coach of the Weyburn Red Wings (18-34-5-1). The Saskatoon product looks to be leading a young group, which includes talented 18-year-old defenceman Riley Little.