CARROT RIVER — After a successful regular season, the Carrot River Outback Thunder are looking forward to the postseason.
“The group of guys are all pumped up for playoffs here,” said Carrot River’s own David Wiens, the Outback Thunder captain and leading scorer. “All the boys have bought into what Manner [Coach Darrell Mann] has been teaching us and we should be a team this year that goes deep into the playoffs.”
The Junior B squad posted a 26-13-0-1 regular season record. The 26 victories are the most for the team since 2010-11 when the Outback Thunder won 32 games.
“Just a great bunch of young men,” Mann said of his team. “I love going to the rink every day with this group. … They want to learn, they want to get better, and they want to work hard. They put the work in every day.”
The Outback Thunder placed third in the PJHL’s Bob Dybvig Division. The top two teams receive a bye, but Mann is comfortable taking on the Prince Albert Titans in a best-of-three Survivor Series, which starts this weekend in Carrot River. After noting the team has been playing well, Mann said, “I don’t think it hurts us getting on the ice and playing a Survivor Series a little bit.”
“I’m looking forward to that intense hockey that playoffs bring and looking around the room I know that we have a great group of guys with a fantastic coaching staff supporting us,” said Karson Brooks, a rookie from Hudson Bay who was second on the squad in points.
Competing against the Titans means the Outback Thunder will face off against the league’s top scorer in Ben Zultok. The homegrown forward paced the league with 78 points and 53 goals in 38 games.
“He’s very skilled,” Mann said. “Shoots the puck a lot. They got a gritty bunch of guys. We’ve had success against them in the regular season – going 6-0 – but their goaltending is strong.
“We just have to come out and play our game. We think we have four really good lines, six solid D. We love our depth.”
With top scorer David Wiens sitting at 21st in the PJHL, the Outback Thunder do not have any of the league’s top 20 scorers. However, it has a number of players who can produce offensively. Seven players have at least 10 goals. Defencemen Tanner Dutcawich and Drayton Hvidston are among the team’s top five scorers. As well as ability, the Outback Thunder boast chemistry.
“We get along really well,” Mann said. “I think that’s a big part of it at the junior level – to have guys who want to go to battle and go to war for each other every night.”
He took over the team just before the start of the regular season due to Rob Holoien departing for personal reasons. During the season Mann, assistant coach Kolton Holmen and general manager Brennan Hall worked together to make key additions to the rosters. Earlier in the season some of these additions included standout goalie Alex Bell, defenceman Drayton Hvidston, and Skylar Olson. Around the Jan. 10 trade deadline, the Outback Thunder made deals to bring defenceman Kyler Opp and forward Chase Vancoughnett-Lafleur back to the team. They also added Mackenzie Carson and Hunter Rambow, another former Outback Thunder player, from the Junior A ranks.
In the PJHL awards announced last week, Mann was named the winner of the Peter Dittmann Coach of the Year Award. Although it is his first season in Carrot River, Mann has a long history of coaching success – including with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Melfort
Mustangs and the U18 AAA Tisdale Trojans, who he led to the 2002 national title and a 2019 national bronze medal.
“Darrell is a really great coach. He’s the coach of the year for a reason,” Bell said. “The guys and myself have a ton of respect for him and we wouldn’t be in the position we are without him. I’ve enjoyed playing for Manner. We have a really great connection both on and off the ice. He’s definitely one of my favourite coaches that I’ve played for.”
Bell was named to the Bob Dybvig Division All-Star team. He led the league in goals against average at 2.37.
Carrot River’s Mike Livermore was named the PJHL’s Mike Kocay Memorial Volunteer of the Year. Mann said it was great to see because, “without the volunteers and the hockey executives you aren’t going to have a hockey club.”
Formerly a teacher, coach, and town councillor, Livermore helped the team evolve from the Tri-Town Thunder into the Outback Thunder. He has served on the team’s board.
“He’s a guy that’s done so much for our organization,” Mann said. “They built a brand-new dressing room here in Carrot River that our players just absolutely love. He was a huge part of that. And just everything he does on a daily basis volunteering for the organization is so huge.