The Norman Northstars AAA U18 squad are planning to play this season - and they’re going to do it with a half-dozen ‘Flonners on the team.
While the SJHL continues to twiddle its thumbs, Hockey Manitoba affiliated leagues are heading toward the start of the season, including the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League - the league the Northstars play in. The league currently expects to begin play in October, between Oct. 9-Nov. 1, and will play a schedule of between 24-36 games split into either two or three divisions. It is unknown how recently announced restrictions on travel from southern Manitoba into the north will effect the team and its schedule. The Northstars are the only AAA U18 team in Manitoba based north of the 53rd parallel.
This year’s Northstars roster features six players from the Flin Flon area - defenceman Connor Slugoski, goalie Odin Church and forwards Morgan Daneliuk, Magnus Pearson, Evan Reid and Nolan Rideout.
Church and Daneliuk are both returnees from last year’s Northstars squad. Church was one of three goaltenders who saw regular action in the team’s crease, playing 13 games with a goals-against-average of 8.25 and a save percentage of .823. The 5-foot-7, 130-pound goalie will battle with fellow returnee Linden Gamblin for the team’s starting goalie spot.
Daneliuk played the whole season with the team in 2018-19, tallying seven points in 46 games, but stayed in Flin Flon for most of last season, playing on the U18 A Bombers with Pearson and Rideout. Daneliuk was one of the team’s highest scorers, potting three assists in three games during a tournament in Melfort late in the season. Daneliuk played seven games with the Northstars as an affiliated player last season, scoring one goal.
Slugoski, Pearson, Reid and Rideout each will enter the team as rookies. Reid and Slugoski each played last season with the Norman bantam AAA Wolves - Reid finished the season with eight points in 11 games, while Slugoski finished with 12 points in 28 games. Pearson is one year removed from playing with the Wolves, where he put up 14 points in 33 games in the 2018-19 season before suiting up with the U18 A Bombers this past season. In the same Melfort tournament where Daneliuk scored three points, Pearson scored one goal, while Rideout went pointless.
Several key players from last year’s 5-42 Northstars squad will not return to play this season, including Flin Flonners like Blake Lahonen and Derek Koivisto, who have left to pursue junior hockey opportunities. Top scorer and team captain Jordan Pfoh, himself a Flin Flonner, committed to play for the Bombers this upcoming season.
The team’s top returning scorer will be defenceman Cheechoo Lathlin. Originally from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Lathlin ended the season with 20 points in 46 games.
One key northern recruit will not be joining the Northstars this season - outgoing Wolves captain Joey Lies. The forward, who led the team in scoring and finished with a point on more than half the team’s goals, will instead attend the Rink Hockey Academy in Winnipeg and will play in the Canadian Sports Schools Hockey League (CSSHL) pending any program or league changes due to COVID-19.