NIPAWIN — Nipawin Hawks forwards Alex Johnson and Maguire Ratzlaff are definitely flying offensively this season.
As of Tuesday, Maguire paced the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with 14 goals in 17 games. He ranked ninth in the league scoring race with 20 points. Meanwhile Johnson was 19th in the SJHL with 17 points. Maguire captains the squad while Johnson serves as an assistant captain.
“Those are two guys who obviously wear letters for us and are leaders within our dressing room,” Hawks head coach Tad Kozun said. “They’ve really taken that next step and shown they can be great Junior A hockey players. The hard work always pays off. You can tell they put the work in in the summertime and their confidence is great right now.”
As of Tuesday, Johnson was a point away from matching the 18 he posted in 51 games last season. So far this season the playmaker was third in the SJHL with 16 assists in 17 games.
“With this being my third season in this league and on the Nipawin Hawks, I am more comfortable and confident than I might have been during my rookie season,” he said. “As well as the team has a lot of depth and skill, so it doesn’t matter who I play with, each shift has potential to create good offence chances.”
Last season Ratzlaff collected eight points in 31 SJHL games split between Nipawin and Melville. Through 17 games, he has already more than doubled his points total and increased last season’s goals output – three – by more than four times. When asked about his increased points production, he said:
“Obviously, I have some great line mates that are finding me in good spots on the ice. I think shooting the puck more has proven to be successful for me as well.”
The duo is part of a 6-9-1-1 Hawks team that is scoring at a better clip than a season ago. Nipawin averages 3.17 goals a game this campaign while it scored 2.20 per contest last season.
“I think we’re playing a really exciting brand of hockey this season with more goals, but our true success is coming from taking care of our end first,” Ratzlaff said. “When we are tight in our D zone, we spend more time on offence and with the pedigree we have up front pucks find their way to the back of the net.”
A Calgary product, the 20-year-old Johnson came to the Hawks as an 18-year-old rookie in 2020-2021. He only played three games for Nipawin before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the season to be paused and eventually cancelled.
“Coming to Nipawin as an 18-year-old from a big city, I was very curious to see the kind of support the team would get from the community and it’s safe to say the community loves their hockey team,” Johnson said. “The energy that the town brings to the rink every game is amazing and it helps the team compete night in and night out. I’ve heard from different players in the league that the Cage is one of the hardest buildings to play in in the league. In my opinion, Nipawin has the best fans in the SJHL.”
Johnson is one of the players giving them something to cheer about this season.
“He has so much poise with the puck and holds onto pucks and makes great plays,” Kozun said. “He always has his head up. His hockey IQ is very, very high. It is shown by his play making ability and the amount of success he’s had so far this year.”
Now in his third season with the Hawks, Johnson has enjoyed his time in the community. “Nipawin has welcomed me with open arms from the moment I got into town as an 18-year-old,” he said. “The community is like none other I have ever experienced, and I will be sad to leave it at the end of the season. Nipawin has given me the opportunity to become a better hockey player and a better person.”
Johnson plans to play hockey as long as he can. He hopes to compete and continue developing his game at the post-secondary level while pursuing a degree in kinesiology.
A 19-year-old Abbotsford, B.C. product, Ratzlaff said, “It’s a great honour to captain the Hawks this year. We have a really good group of guys, with lots of potential so it’s an exciting task for sure.”
Last season Ratzlaff played six games in the Junior B ranks with the 100 Mile House Wranglers in B.C. He then joined Melville Millionaires before being traded to Nipawin. Regarding his transition to the Junior A level, Ratzlaff said:
“Getting faster has been a huge adjustment I’ve had to make. Other things like my positional play and injury maintenance have also been things I’ve had to adjust to.”
He has certainly made the adjustments. Now Ratzlaff frequently has opposing SJHL netminder seeing red.
“His work ethic is second to none.” Kozun said. “He is one of those guys who will never quit. Even when he’s tired, he always finds a second gear and does things right.
“Kudos to him on how much effort he put in in the summertime. He’s just come in and been a difference maker for us, but it’s one of those things where hard work always gets rewarded. He’s one of those guys who never takes a shift off.”