It was a busy week for the Nipawin Hawks as they navigated the trade deadline while balancing a trio of hockey games.
The week kicked off for the Hawks with the Jan. 10 deadline, where they were busy making a pair of moves to bolster their line-up.
One big trade move was acquiring Melville Millionaires leading scorer Keegan Milligan in exchange for defenseman Eric Soar and a 2017 fifth round draft pick.
Doug Johnson, the Hawks’ head coach and general manager, noted Milligan was someone they have targeted for quite some time.
“We’re very happy to acquire Keegan. We think he’s going to be a big part of our success and really strengthens our top-end forward group for sure.”
The 20-year-old Emerald Park native comes to the Hawks with a wealth of experience, having played parts of five seasons in the SJHL and BCHL with three different teams including Notre Dame and Melville.
Milligan is a proven scorer in the league this season, having put up 34 points in 37 games prior to the move to Nipawin.
The trade made sense for the Hawks, said Johnson, and including Soar also made sense for the player as they looked to give him a fresh start with a new team.
“[We’re] thankful for everything he did here, but sometimes kids just need to hear a different voice to take the next step.”
The other key move the Hawks made prior to the deadline was bringing in defenseman Tanner Reynolds from the La Ronge Ice Wolves in exchange for the list rights to Austin Bill and Justin Bill.
A big kid like Reynolds will provide the team with a little more of a defensive presence on the blue line since he can play the hard minutes, said Johnson.
“Tanner’s a guy we got excellent recommendations on from his former coaches in Weyburn, we had some assets La Ronge wanted. It made sense for both parties.”
The 20-year-old Calgary native has spent parts of four seasons in the AJHL and SJHL splitting his time between three other clubs, including the Weyburn Red Wings and the Ice Wolves.
Reynolds is not known for his offense as he joins the Hawks with a career high nine points in 38 games this season.
Johnson was pleased to be able to acquire both players, noting that both players filled a need the team identified heading into the trade deadline.
After a busy deadline, the Hawks returned to the ice with their new team on Jan. 11 when they traveled to Melfort to take on the rival Mustangs.
The Hawks jumped out to a huge 3-0 lead in the first period as Michael Grant, Tanner Thompson and Eric Bolden all found the back of the net.
The final two periods were much less dominant for the Hawks as the Mustangs played them evenly, with both teams scoring three goals. Bolden, Brett Harasymuk and Keillan Olson all scored to lift the Hawks to a 6-3 win.
The huge first period was the difference maker in the game, said Johnson, and he noticed the team sit back a little too much in the final two periods.
“We made some mistakes and let the game get a little closer than we had wanted, but [I’m] still happy with everything.”
After the prior weeks, Johnson said this will give his guys a bit of a confidence boost.
The Hawks had a day off before they were back in action as they visited the Millionaires, with Milligan making his first trip back since the trade.
The first period saw the Hawks get off to a great start as they scored twice and never looked back en route to a dominating 10-1 win.
Michael Grant led the way offensively for the Hawks finishing the night with three goals and two assists, while seven other Hawks finished with at least two points.
The offensive explosion was great to see, said Johnson.
Bringing in players like Milligan and Josh Bly the deadline prior was an effort to try to boost the offense but Johnson did not expect ten goals in a game.
The coach said offense was the team’s largest need before the deadline, with those two players, as well as Eric Bolden and Brandan Arnold providing that.
Coming off the big 10-1 win, the Hawks wrapped up their week on home ice the following night as they slipped past the Yorkton Terriers 5-3.
After a goal and one mistake brought the Hawks down 2-0, the guys kept battling back, said Johnson.
“Something, in the past, that we haven’t been able to do is come from two goals down and it was very nice to see on Saturday night,” he said.
Mounting that comeback is a huge confidence booster for the Hawks, and they will have the confidence that they can comeback from any deficit, said Johnson.
“[It] kind of makes them almost invincible in their own mind and that’s what you need in playoffs is you’re never out of a game and you know you’re going to win.”
Grant had an excellent week for the Hawks as he finished five goals and three assists in the three games and was named the SJHL Player of the Week as a result.
Johnson was not surprised to see Grant excel so well on the scoresheet this week, noting that it has been a progression from him week after week.
“[He’s] playing a little faster, going to the gritty areas more and making sure he’s doing all the little things and the big thing with him too is his work ethic is unmatched.”
Looking ahead after a busy week, the Hawks enjoy a much lighter week with a single game as they welcome the Millionaires to the Cage on Jan. 21.
With so many new faces now in the fold, Johnson said this week will be a great opportunity to get some more competitive practices in with the new players.
“There’s going to be competition for ice time, there’s going to be competition just to even get into the lineup. If the guys keep battling amongst themselves harder than they do in games, it’s going to make us very strong in the second half of the year.”