Author's Note – What the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks is the Flashback?
There’s a lot of ground to cover in Northeast Saskatchewan, and not just the hour drive from Melfort to Nipawin with Tisdale at the midway mark, but the surrounding towns, villages, and RMs all around.
It’s not just news in the northeast that needs a keen eye, but hockey too. There always seems to be something newsworthy happening with the Melfort Mustangs, Nipawin Hawks, and Tisdale Trojans.
The Flashback is a weekly look how all the hockey teams in the three main areas northeastNOW covers faired in their games, along with analysis, interviews, and what happens next.
The goal here is to make coverage of hockey in the northeast region as palatable, and most importantly, as fun as possible.
Here we go.
Nipawin Hawks – No longer streaking
Most of the greatest streaks in sports history come to an end.
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game base hit streak in baseball, Brett Favres’ 297-game iron man streak in football, the Undertaker’s 21-0 undefeated streak at WrestleMania.
The Nipawin Hawks’ 6-0 start to the season unfortunately fell victim to that trend with a 5-1 road loss to the Kindersley Klippers. It was one of those games where head coach Doug Johnson said a lot of things didn’t go right and Kindersley capitalized.
“It’s a lesson we needed to learn,” Johnson said. “We just got to make sure we bring it every night instead of picking and choosing our nights. Especially with a young group, they need to realize what it takes to be a great team and not a good team.”
“It’s easy to be good some of the time, but to be truly great you need to be good all the time.”
Thankfully for the Hawks, the winning ways resumed the next night with a 2-1 shootout win against the Battlefords North Stars, although the win didn’t completely satisfy Johnson.
“We had great goaltending that night and they didn’t capitalize on their chances as much as Kindersley did; they hit five posts.”
“I still don’t think we played very well, and video shows we didn’t, but we grinded out a win someway somehow. It’s a credit to the young group being able to do that when you’re not great.”
The great goaltending came from backup goalie Patrick Pugliese. Not even a quarter of the games have been played this season, yet comparing the stats Hobbs and Pugliese have produced, there could be a case for Pugliese to see more action as the year unfolds. Pugliese’s performance so far definitely won’t hurt his chances of playing. Johnson emphasized how crucial it is to have two capable goaltenders in the SJHL.
“We’ve had stretches where we’ve played four games in six nights, and now a stretch of three games in four nights,” Johnson said. “It’s tough to have one goalie play all those games.”
“You need two goalies to have success in this league and we’re very fortunate to have two goalies again this year.”
Week four of the SJHL season was a learning curve for a Hawks team with only five returning players from last season. But for the Hawks’ sake, at least they’re learning these lessons while being the top team in the CJHL’s nationwide ranking.
Melfort Mustangs – Brief visit home
Three weeks. Six games. 1500km travelled. That’s what has transpired for the road warrior Mustangs since their home opener on Sept. 15, their only game at Northern Lights Palace in Melfort so far.
Going 3-2-1 away from the Palace, the road warriors finally return home on Friday, Oct. 5, sitting third in the Sherwood Division before the second of three straight games against the La Ronge Ice Wolves. Mustangs fans are eager to see their team again and the Mustangs feel the same way. But if head coach Trevor Blevins could change the first few weeks of the schedule he’d probably be at peace with taking a few more bus trips to La Ronge.
“We spent a little time away, but we scheduled that on purpose,” Blevins said. “Get on the road early and have the team gel together. We can’t control when the Showcase is, but we like to get on the road early and settle in with some home games later in the season.”
“It will be great to be back home and have a good effort in front of our fans.”
Outside of the grand home return, the Mustangs are focused on the two points at hand against the Ice Wolves. It’s the second of three straight games and the teams will be more familiar with how one another plays, what their systems are, and their tendencies. On Sept. 28, the Mustangs went up to La Ronge and beat the Ice Wolves 7-4, putting them seven points ahead of the Wolves in the Sherwood Division.
For Blevins and his road warriors, the win was a Game of Zones.
“The negatives were where we gave up three blatant goals which were gifts,” Blevins said. “One was a 2-on-1. We’re still giving up too many quality chances.”
“We obviously need to manage the puck better in our zone but putting up seven goals is a huge positive. Our offence was great as far as inside their zone.”
The Mustangs first line of Justin Ball, Tanner Zentner, and Carson Albrecht did a lot of that heavy lifting in the offensive zone combining for three goals and three assists. Heading into the home game against the Ice Wolves, Ball and Albrecht are ranked seven and 12 in SJHL scoring. Blevins wants to see his squad shore up defensively a little more and be on the same page for what’s expected going forward. Blevins believes that’s going come with experience through the next five games.
And four of those games will be on, you guessed it, the road.
Tisdale Trojans – Providing the good times
With a lot of good times in northeast hockey to absorb, a team starting their season later than the rest is coming out of the gate with some good times of their own.
The Tisdale Trojans have come out of the gate strong since their Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL) started on Sept. 21, sitting second in the league standings with six points in four games (3-1-0-0).
The Trojans began with a pair of wins against the Yorkton RawTec Maulers in a home and home series, then splitting two games at the SMAAAHL Showcase in Warman with a 6-0 win over the Swift Current Legionnaires and a 2-1 loss to the Moose Jaw Generals. Despite the tight loss at the end, head coach Darrell Mann is pleased with his young team’s start.
“Our chemistry has been amazing,” Mann said. “Full credit to our leaders and returning players. We’re fortunate here with a great leadership group and they’ve brought everyone together and I think that’s a huge part of our success early on.”
“Guys are playing for each other and that’s something hopefully we can continue this season.”
Midget hockey can be difficult to manage in the early parts of the season. The SMAAAHL begins a few weeks after the WHL and SJHL, where the entire team won’t be together since main camp in August.
Goaltender Tanner Martin with the Melfort Mustangs and defenseman Landon Kosior with the Prince Albert Raiders are some of the players who spent time with teams a level or two above midget. Or in the Trojans case, you have some players who are away from your team the entire season.
The SMAAAHL is a development league where players graduate to major junior or Junior A hockey. The Trojans have three players: forward Kaden Kohle with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, centre Zack Smith with the Melfort Mustangs, and centre Dylan Esau with the Battlefords North Stars of the SJHL are still with their respective clubs.
While winning is crucial, Mann knows the end game of midget hockey is not only to move players forward but anticipate it as well.
“You realize back in the summer that two or three of these players might be gone, so we went out and did some recruiting to fill those holes,” Mann said. “It’s kind of ironic Trenton Curtis is one of those guys who’s jumped in and he leads our team with four goals already in four games.”
“It’s tough but obviously our job is to be a development league. The more players we can move on the better it is for our program.”
The Trojans are lucky enough to have a younger team last season with 10 players returning, with Cades Hayes and Kalen Ukrainetz up front, Kosior and captain Luke Arndt at the back end, and Martin in between the pipes.
This season is an important one for the Trojans to load up on talent for a deep run, as Tisdale will host the 2019 Telus Cup Western Regionals in April.
The Telus Cup Regionals is a four-team round-robin tournament, featuring a host team and three championship teams from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. The winner moves on to the Telus Cup to determine the national AAA champions.
No matter how the regular season and playoffs finish for the Trojans, they’ll be playing in the Western Regionals as the host team.
A gift of a bye to the tournament is also a problem, as Mann and his team know it could be a trap and excuse to coast through the season knowing they’ll be playing guaranteed meaningful hockey.
“That’s our job as coaches and players to focus on the task at hand,” Mann said. “We want to earn our way into regionals and we’re going to stress that to our players.”
The Trojans season has started out with the good times, and there’s more ahead in April.
But for Mann, he wants the good times to keep on rolling for the next six months.
The Trojans host the Prince Albert Mintos Friday, Oct. 5 at the Tisdale RECplex at 7:30 pm.
On Twitter: @SchulzePANow
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