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Prospect Pulse

Prospect Pulse: Around the SJHL

Illegal Curve has conducted an interview about the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with Weyburn Red Wing colour-man and executive, Brad McNeil. Here is the transcript of that interview:

Brad, you have been around the SJHL for some time now, give us a quick run down of how the season is going thus far. Who is hot, who is cold?

Well Kyle, Humboldt and Melville both have had strong starts and lately the Melfort Mustangs have also been picking up their game. Melfort was bolstered by the addition of goaltender Ilia Ejov, who spent the past two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Taylor Watt in Melfort is one of the hottest forwards at the time as he is averaging over two points a game. The big three in Flin Flon – Pierre-Luc Boucher, Dennis Kubat and Reid MacLeod have all put up big numbers. The La Ronge scoring threats Jordie Johnston and Jarrid Dowhay have also been scoring points a lot more as of late. As for the cold, the Battlefords North Stars, albeit a very young team, have dropped 14 straight games and only have two wins on the season. The Estevan Bruins and Nipawin Hawks have both had a few struggles lately and have both been busy on the trade market trying to tweak the rosters.

The SJHL currently has one player, defenseman Tommy Brown of the Melfort Mustangs, on Team Canada West at the World Junior A championships. Are there any others you feel deserved a spot on the team? Has Brown committed to any NCAA colleges?

Well first of al I congratulate Tommy Brown on earning a well deserved spot on the team. As a rookie, he is already amonst the elite defenseman in our league. To my knowledge, Brown has not committed to a NCAA school yet but I have a feeling it will not be long coming. I would suspect this will be is one and only season in the SJHL.

As for who is not there, where do I begin. The most obvious omission in my mind is Flin Flon forward Reid MacLeod. Perhaps being tucked away up in Flin Flon he has not had the exposure that some other players have had and that is a shame. There are also a couple of other defenseman I felt could be there – Brady Wacker of the Humboldt Broncos and Michael Trebish of the Yorkton Terriers.

Is this year’s tournament the first that Weyburn coach Dwight MacMillan has participated in?

Actually Kyle, this will be Dwight’s second consecutive appearance at the tournament. He was also an assistant coach last year in Yorkton when Team Canada West were crowned the champions.

Notre Dame rookie Rylan Schwartz is described by NHL Central Scouting as a C Prospect. How would you describe his game and do you feel he will be included in the upcoming NHL draft?

I have had a chance to see Schwartz play quite a bit this season already and the offensive abilities of this kid are unreal. He started a bit slow, as did most of his teams, but has quickly climbed back up amongst the league’s scoring leaders. He already has committed to Colorado College for next year and I would not be surprised if we see Schwartz in the show at some point.

Narrowing the focus to your hometown Weyburn Red Wings, who is leading the team this year and do you expect any them to move on the NCAA?

In Weyburn, I feel we have a well balanced team. Preston Shupe, a hometown product, is currently our leading scorer and comes to play every night. Torrey Lindsay has also fit in well since being acquired from the OPJHL in the summer. Brayden Nargang, a former Portland Winter Hawk, has been a point a game player for us since returning from WHL camp. Youngster Rhett Bly, a former Regina Pat Canadian, has also impressed as of late. On defense, Kyle Haines, who played on Team Canada West last year, is our team captain and leader on defense. Stephen Simms, one of three Newfoundlanders on the team, is one of the best offensive defenseman in the SJHL. Our rookie goaltender AJ Whiffen is amongst the league leaders in all goaltending statistics. I should note that we only have two twenty year olds on the roster at this time – Haines and forward Josh Bray.
As for NCAA opportunities, I would think Haines should garner some interest, as well as Shupe, Simms and Whiffen in the future, although perhaps not this year.

The Flin Flon Bombers boast the top 3 scorers in the SJHL, is that an indication of the talent level on the team or do they play a run and gun style?

It may be hard for me to comment on the Bombers because I have only seen them play once this year, a 4-0 loss to Weyburn. The Bombers big line was invisible that night but that has been a rarity this season. The next night, Reid MacLeod had a seven point game in Estevan. Although I think much of the Bombers scoring comes from Boucher, MacLeod and Kubat, the Bombers also have a talented second line featuring recently acquired Barrett Penner along with David Linsley and Tommy Castonguay. Goaltender Calvin Bartel as recently returned from injury and provides a solid tandem with Carsen Chubak. The Bombers, like many teams, may need to add a bit more depth, especially on the blue line, in order to move themselves into the upper tier.

Its been a few years since I regularly attended SJHL games, is the style of play still very physical, or has it become a skill league like much of the rest of Canadian Jr. A?

Overall, I feel the league is still the most physical of the junior A leagues in Canada but admittedly not quite what it used to be. You don’t see as many signature goons on team rosters that you used to see. Unfortunately though, I find hits to the head and checking from behind are becoming more prevalent and that is a concern.

Are there still a lot of fights?

You just don’t see as many fights as you used too. It used to be as I said earlier, that every team had that signature goon. Now you just don’t see that. Usually your “goon” has to be more of a multi-dimensional player now. In Weyburn, Eric Calibaba and Michael Seib are a couple of guys we lean on for the rough stuff but they are also very important role guys on our club that play a regular shift. That is how it has become around the league.

Humboldt appears to be the early favorites to win the SJHL crown. Do you see any other contenders in the field?

I definitely think Humboldt is the cream of the crop but it is still early and you never know what can happen. The parity in our league is unbelievable. With the exception of maybe one or two, I think every other team could be considered a legitimate contender. Melville has good depth and good goaltending. If 18 year old AJ Whiffen can keep up his game I think we have a shot here in Weyburn as well. I never count out a team coached by Dwight McMillan. Yorkton, under the guidance of Ed Zawatsky, always has something to say come playoff time as well.

In recent years, the BCHL and now the AJHL have become breeding grounds for NHL talent while the SJHL seems to produce few NHL players. Do you think the SJHL will eventually catch up?

I am cautiously optimistic but at the same time some realization as to set in. In Saskatchewan all of our teams are community owned with volunteer board of directors. The team budgets just do not allow us to make the same kind of offers that kids are getting in BC and Alberta. I have always been curious to know the player acquisition budget in Camrose for example, or Nanaimo BC, or Penticton, BC. Nothing made me prouder than in 2005 when the host Weyburn Red Wings were crowned the Royal Bank Cup champions over the free spending Kodiaks. It just proves that the SJHL is as strong as any of the other leagues. Sometimes it goes further than how many NCAA scholarships are awarded in a league. There are no doubt some guys prefer the warmer climate in BC than the long cold winters on the Prairies and that may also factor into the decisions being made.

Kyle – thank you for giving the SJHL exposure on your website. It is much appreciated and I know I have talked to a lot of people who enjoy your site. Keep up the good work.