Things off the ice will be a little different when the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League drops the puck to start its 2022-2023 season on Friday.
After 11 seasons, Bill Chow has retired as the president of the province’s Junior A league. Chow led the league through arguably the two biggest events in its history – the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash tragedy and the COVID-19 pandemic. Former educator Kyle McIntyre steps into lead the league as its commissioner.
The SJHL’s 12 teams are hoping this weekend is the start of a competitive, “normal” season. In 2021-2022, the Estevan Bruins triumphed 2-0 in seventh game of the league finals to claim the SJHL championship, 4-3. Both the Bruins and the Bombers competed in the Centennial Cup, the national Junior A championships, which Estevan hosted.
Battlefords North Stars
Head coach: Brayden Klimosko (Fifth season)
2021-2022 record: 35-17-5-1
Playoffs: Lost to Flin Flon, 4-2, in the first round
Last season a young Stars team finished with the SJHL’s fourth-best record. Brayden Klimosko was rewarded for his work with the young club when he received the league’s Coach of the Year award for the second time. A number of players from that squad are back and armed with valuable playoff experience. They will be led by Jake Southgate. The hometown North Battleford product has been named the team’s captain. With 52 points in 55 games last season, Southgate was second on the team in scoring to Dylan Esau, who has aged out. Esau, Southgate and returning forward Steve Kesslering all had a team-best 23 goals. On the blueline, the North Stars return such players as Tynan Ewart, Jordan Grill, and Wilson Steele. Klimosko believes his team’s depth could be its strength. In net, Lowen Kenyon returns after backing up Michael Harroch last season. Josh Kotai from B.C. is also seeking time between the pipes.
Head coach: Scott Barney (Fifth season)
2021-2022 record: 45-13-0-0,
Playoffs: Beat La Ronge, 4-2, in the first round and fell to Flin Flon, 4-1, in the semifinals
The Broncos are looking to retool after a campaign in which they led the SJHL in wins and finished with the second-best regular season record. Gone are that team’s strong group of 20-year-olds, including captain Kade Olsen and Canadian Junior Hockey League Goaltender of the Year Rayce Ramsay, who set an SJHL single season record with 41 wins. The team also saw the league’s top scorer – LeRoy’s Connor McGrath (84 points in 56 games) – leave early for Ferris State University, and the SJHL’s ninth top scorer Matthew Perkins opt to explore his United States Hockey League option. The Broncos still return offensive contributors such as Alec Saretzky (7th in the SJHL with 62 points), Lucas Ceccarelli (46), Ethan Zielke (36) and Cage Newans (33). To that group, the Broncos have added promising newcomers such as Maddox Amaral, Jace Benvie, and Ben Kotylak. The blue line looks like it could be a strength early on with homegrown standout Noah Barlage back, Chase Lacombe returning after time in the Western Hockey League, and talented 16-year-old Carsten Kayter earning a roster spot. Who defends the Broncos’ crease will be one of the questions fans will be seeking an answer for early this season.
Head coach: Ken Plaquin (Third season)
2021-2022 record: 24-32-1-1
After finishing ninth and just missing out on the playoffs last season, the Klippers are hoping for a postseason run in the spring. The blueline should be a strength for Kindersley. The Klippers had six defencemen who were eligible to return. That group includes Brayden Koch, Josh Morton, Nathan DeGraves, and Liam Bell. Up front the Klippers’ returning forwards include hometown product Tylin Hilbig. Last season in his 18-year-old season, Hilbig paced in both goals (23) and points (41) in 58 games. Aidan Bangs, who had 21 points and 11 goals last season, is another top returner up front. The team is excited about its incoming crop of players. Eighteen-year-old forward Noah Edstrom from Edmonton scored twice over three games against SJHL teams on the preseason. Rosetown’s Kayden Ostrom has also inked with the team.
La Ronge Ice Wolves
Head coach: Kevin Kaminski (Fourth season)
2021-2022 record: 29-24-1-4
Playoffs: Lost to Humboldt, 4-2, in the first round
After being derailed by injuries early in the season, the Ice Wolves found their footing last season when players got healthy and some trades were made. The Ice Wolves look to be strong on their own end of the ice this season. Goalie Dawson Smith was thrust into a big role last season with Xavier Cannon injured. Smith is expected to be a key for the Ice Wolves this time around. In front of him is a veteran crew of defencemen, including Liam McInnis, Parker Layton, Taylor Webb, and Connor Abric. Up front the Ice Wolves will be looking to replace the production of eight forwards who moved on. One of the biggest losses was Brandon Della Paolera. He shared team MVP honours with Cannon and received Top Scorer and Best Playmaker awards. The Ice Wolves will look for production from returners such as Walker Jerome (44 points in 57 games last season), Ryley Morgan (34), and Ethan Strik.
Head coach: Trevor Blevins (10th season)
2021-2022 record: 34-15-4-5
Playoffs: Lost 4-3 to Yorkton in the first round
The Mustangs are loaded with experience after entering camp with 16 players eligible to return. They will be led by a strong group of 20-year-olds. That group includes captain Ben Tkachuk, who will wear the “C” for the second straight season and play in his fourth SJHL season. He was the team’s second leading scorer last season with 56 points in as many games and its top returning points getter. The forward is joined up front by such veterans as Dawson Leroux (43 points), Trenton Curtis (41), Boston Maxwell, and Melfort’s Zac Somers. Goalie Joel Favreau returns for his 20-year-old season after posting 14 wins and a 2.74 goals against average a season ago. In front of him, the ‘Stangs can return most of D-core from last season. Such players as
Hayden Tuba, Leith Olafson, Kevin Minnoch, and Leyton Holoien will be counted on if they are back. Trevor Blevins and his staff have tried to bring in new players to help their veteran crew.
Head coach: Mike Rooney (Third year)
2021-2022 record: 17-30-9-1
The Millionaires return a number of players, especially on defence, from a squad that finished 10th in the league last season. The Melville team is focused on returning to the SJHL postseason and going on a run. The squad returns much of its defence. That includes Louis-Frederic Theberge, who led the blueline with 23 points; Colby Ball; Aiden Robson; and Breckin Den Hartog. One of the newcomers on D is Kayden Skulmoski, a Moosomin product who played in Alberta last season. Forward Zach Cain serves as the team’s captain. Assistant captain Noah Wills led the squad with 50 points and 23 goals in 52 games last season. Second-leading scorer Nicolas Samson (35 points) is also back. The team has players from last year’s squad who are, at publication time, pursuing their opportunities in the major junior ranks. These include Nicholas Andrusiak, Portland Winterhawks; Kyle Bochek, Vancouver Giants; and Charles-Thomas Larochelle, Baie-Comeau Drakkar.
Head coach: Tad Kozun (Second season)
2021-2022 record: 17-35-0-6
Former Hawks and pro player Tad Kozun will be in his first full season leading the team after taking over partway through the last campaign. At the end of 2021-2022, Kozun’s crew only had three 20-year-olds and, due to injury, several affiliated players saw time in the lineup. The Hawks hope that experience helps. Nipawin finished 11th in the SJHL last season with 128 goals in 58 games. The team hopes that it can get increased offensive production from returning players such as Rylan Lefebvre, Joel Mabin, Braxton Buckberger, Bryden Kiesman, and Maguire Ratzlaff. Newcomer Francois-Xavier Bedard will be among the new players who may be able to contribute offensively. On defence, Eric Robbie and Zander Stewart are back. Acquired 20-year-old blue liners Brady Grasdal and Reese Malkewich will be looked upon to provide stability on the backend. Late in the exhibition season the team moved returning goalie Harmon Laser-Hume to Flin Flon. Newcomers Nolan McDowell and Reid Lalonde will man the net.
Notre Dame Hounds
Head coach: Brett Pilkington (Third year)
2021-2022 record: 26-27-3-2
Playoffs: Lost to Estevan, 4-1, in the first round
Notre Dame made a big splash in the offseason when the Wilcox-based institution introduced former NHLer Ethan Moreau as its Director of Hockey. Moreau spent 17 years in the NHL and captained the Edmonton Oilers.
The Hounds earned some valuable playoff experience last season when they earned the last postseason berth. As the eighth seed, they tangled with the top-seeded – and eventual SJHL champs – the Estevan Bruins. With a core of players returning and some exciting newcomers, the
Hounds are hoping to go further in 2023. Among the team’s leaders will be Jaryd Sych. The defenceman posted 34 points in 58 games last season and has committed to Mercyhurst University. Some other top returning players include defenceman Sam Kroon (37 points) and forwards Antoine Saint-Onge (27) and Will Dawson (29).