Riley Mayer and Bret Stobbs are two of the Carrot River Outback Thunder’s rookies who have learned the ropes of Junior B hockey this season.
Both 18-year-old forwards played for the NorthEast Midget AA squad last season. This year they have contributed while learning.
“I have definitely become more comfortable playing in this league,” Mayer said. “The guys in this league are bigger, stronger, and faster compared to the midget level. Every game you just become more comfortable and get used to the speed and size of the players.”
Last week Carrot River split its two games. They pounded the Prince Albert Titans, 8-3, and fell to the league-leading Saskatoon AGI Insurance Quakers, 5-1. The Thunder enter this week with a 16-13-7 record and sit third in the Prairie Junior Hockey League’s North Division.
Three of the Thunder’s four games left this regular season are in the friendly confines of the Carrot River Arena. On Saturday they host the Regina Silver Foxes, while the Saskatoon Westleys visit on Sunday.
Mayer is a 5-foot-10, 173-pound forward from Nipawin. He has four goals, seven points, and 110 penalty minutes in 25 games this season.
“Riley Mayer has good energy and kills penalties well,” said Trevor Logan, the Thunder’s head coach, of the rookie who works at the Nipawin Dairy Queen
Stobbs has battled injuries most of the season. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Melfort product has played 14 games for the Thunder. He has a goal and four points.
“He's a smart player who plays well in all three zones and has some offence in his game that maybe just hasn't come through yet with his limited play and health,” Logan said of Stobbs, who has been attending school in Nipawin and Melfort this winter and worked at the Co-Op Agro in Nipawin.
Both Mayer and Stobbs have enjoyed their time in Carrot River.
“The best part of playing for the Thunder has been the organization and the town,” Stobbs said. “It’s really cool playing at home when all the fans come out to watch you play.”
Three Thunder players have been called up this season to the Junior A ranks. Goalie Ben Gilbertson, 17, was up for a couple games with the Humboldt Broncos. Defenceman Tyrell Wenig, 18, spent two games with Weyburn.
Layne Cay, 20, played one game with the Melfort Mustangs. The Kinistino product, who has a career-high 16 points this season, recorded two assists for Melfort.
“The best part would probably be getting to play my first [Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League] game in front of lots of friends and family and all the support I got from the community and the Mustangs players and staff,” Cay said.
The Thunder thrashed the Titans on Jan. 27 at the Carrot River Arena. The home team outshot Prince Albert 68-37. The Thunder led 2-1 and 6-2 at the intermissions.
“[It] wasn't a real pretty game, but the biggest part was to get the win and avoid injuries and suspensions,” Logan said of competing against a shorthanded Titans crew.
All but two Carrot River skaters recorded a point. Chandler Ashcroft and Logan Robinson each posted four points. Ashcroft had two goals, while Robinson, Rylan Stadnek, Cole Jones, Mayer, Levi Logan and Kyle Njaa also lit the lamp for the Thunder. Gilbertson made 34 saves to pick up the win in net.
Scoring for the Titans were Shane Regier, Ryley Hawkeswood and Kent Hanson. Travis Dryka made 60 saves.
On Jan. 29, the Thunder fell 5-1 to the Quakers. Coach Logan said that in this game his team probably had its most quality scoring chances against the league leaders this season. Carrot River actually outshot Saskatoon, 33-32. Coach Logan said the puck wasn’t bouncing the Thunder’s way and the Quakers were able to bear down on their chances.
“All in all, it didn't feel like a 5-1 game,” Coach Logan said. “We were right there most of the night and that is still a positive to see against a top team like the Quakers.”
Carrot River’s goal came from Chandler Ashcroft in the third period. Thunder netminder Kolton Holmen had 27 saves on 32 shots.
Bryson Aistine had two goals for the Quakers. Also scoring for Saskatoon were Jared Hillis, former Thunder player Tyrell Pompu and Braden Oleksyn. Austin Swystun made 32 saves.