For the last decade, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has had a run of repeat winners.
Other than a Humboldt Broncos championship in 2012, those that capture the league crown tend to hold on to it for awhile.
The Melfort Mustangs have won the last two years, with the Yorkton Terriers winning back-to-back crowns before that. Prior to the Broncos triumph four years ago, the La Ronge Ice Wolves had won consecutive titles.
The Ice Wolves had ended a three-year run by the Broncos, with the Terriers winning back-to-back crowns before that in 2005 and 2006.
Even with all of that, the league itself seems to be pretty competive from the outside looking in, with a number of different sides having a legit shot at the crown.
So, with the season starting today, I’ve decided to share my pre-season rankings heading into opening. They might be way off base given that I just arrived in SJHL country in July, but this will be good for a laugh come the end of the year.
Oh and I’ve also left you a forward, a defenceman and a goalie you should keep your eyes on as the year goes along, especially if any of these teams are coming to your town.
1. Flin Flon Bombers
After making it to the finals last year for the first time since they won it all in 1993, the Bombers have quite a lot coming back from their surpirsing playoff run. Despite losing SJHL player of the year Alex Smith to Michigan Tech, they return a number of forwards, almost their entire defence and both netminder in Brendan Newton and Zac Robidoux. That’s enough for me to put them at the top of my list.
Players to Watch – Brandon Lesko, Joseph Leonidas and Brendan Newton
2. Battlefords North Stars
Both Taryn Kotchorek and Ryan Rewarts return in goal and almost the entire defence is back, which is builds an awesome base to build around. However, the North Stars did lose a ton of fire power up front, especially with Igor Leonenko graduating and Coby Downs heading to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. Rookie of the Year Layne Young is back and the Stars have made some nice moves to add veteran forwards, so that might answer the forward depth concerns as the year goes on.
Players to Watch – Layne Young, Connor Sych and Taryn Kotchorek
3. Melfort Mustangs
The winner’s of the last two SJHL titles have lost a number of key components from their squad, with the most notable graduate being two-time league scoring champion Travis Mayan. However, there are still a number of good returning players around that will keep the Mustangs in the mix. Doubt the current provincial kingpins at your own peril.
Players to Watch – Dakota Boutin, Eric Sinclair and Evan Plotnik
4. Weyburn Red Wings
After being upset in the quarter-finals last year by Flin Flon, the Red Wings are eager for a long playoff run this season. They have a solid group of forwards and blueliners that are coming back, but they do lose defending SJHL goalie of the year Jack Burgart to Bemidji State. Nathan Hargrave has brought in from Kindersley to lead the way between the pipes.
Players to Watch – Braden Mellon, Mike Eskra and Nathan Hargrave
5. Yorkton Terriers
Despite being a young team that’s still in a rebuild from their run to the 2014 RBC Cup title, the Terriers return quite a lot from last year’s squad. I may be a year early on this group, but I’m a sucker for teams with lots of good young talent.
Players to Watch – Carson and McKenzie Welke, Regan Seiferling and Jakob Severson
6. Humboldt Broncos
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 1980, the Broncos should bounce back this season. Although the defence has a number of fresh faces, they have a really solid veteran group of forwards to lead the way. The Broncos also made a great pickup in the off-season by acquiring netminder Garrett Mason from the AJHL’s Whitecourt Wolverines.
Players to Watch – Logan Schatz, Connor Swystun and Garrett Mason
7. Notre Dame Hounds
As I post this, the Hounds roster has yet to be put up on the SJHL website but it sounds like they have a nice mix of veteran players and new faces. They have a number of players coming up from last year’s Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League champions, including talented forward Adam Dawe who is committed to Maine.
Players to Watch – Adam Dawe, Tyler Podgorenko and Payton Porter
8. La Ronge Ice Wolves
The Ice Wolves made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 last year and their fans were rewarded for their patience with a wild card round win over Yorkton. There’s a solid group that is back on both offence and defence, though the key to their success might be if they can overcome the loss of graduating netminder Kris Joyce.
Players to Watch – Jared Blaquiere, Bryce Fiske and Joshua Dechaine
9. Estevan Bruins
Last year’s Western Canada Cup hosts had a bit of a disappointing season as they were knocked out in the quarter-finals and then went winless against the best teams from the West. It’ll be a transition year for the Bruins, but some interesting newcomers might help to overcome the holes left by the veterans who have moved on.
Players to Watch – Lynnden Pastachak, Johnny Witzke and Nathan Alalouf
10. Kindersley Klippers
There has been quite a lot of turnover from last year’s Klippers squad with players either graduating or moving to other junior leagues. With a ton of new faces coming in, there might be a few rough nights early on before things turn the corner later in the winter.
Players to Watch – Carson Pickett, Holden Daley and Justen Close
11. Nipawin Hawks
Speaking of roster turnover, there is a massive amount of change in store for the Hawks after their run to the semifinal a year ago. Kristian Stead is back in goal, which is a huge help, but he might have to stand on his head to help his team have another long playoff run.
Players to Watch – Keegan Kjargaard, Carter Doerksen and Kristian Stead
12. Melville Millionaires
Like the last few teams I’ve mentioned, Melville also has quite a lot of new faces so it may be though for them to get back to the playoffs after missing a year ago. However, given that many of the new faces have done well in other places, this pick might look foolish once the season ends in March.
Players to Watch – Teal Sobkowicz, Austin Johnston and Brandon Wells