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Three west-central hockey players competing at national championship May 9-19

2024 National Junior A Hockey Championship, known as the Centennial Cup, will have Macklin and Kerrobert representation.

What are the chances that the 2024 National Junior A Hockey Championship, Centennial Cup, would include two neighbors from Macklin and a player from Kerrobert? Austin Shepherd from Kerrobert will play with his SJHL team, the Melfort Mustangs, along with assistant Melfort coach, Tye Scherger from Macklin. Kaden Veller from Macklin will be up against these guys as he is competing with his team, the Sioux Lookout Bombers.

For the last 51 years, Canada’s Junior A men’s hockey teams have faced off for Centennial Cup, with the 2024 event held May 9-19 in Oakville, Ont. featuring nine teams who have captured their provinces championship.

Scherger and Veller grew up beside each other in Macklin.

Shepherd, who hails from Kerrobert is playing his first year in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with Melfort Mustangs.

Shepherd said, “I’ve played some of my minor hockey in Kerrobert but when I got too peewee second year, I joined the West Central Wheat Kings AA program, where I played five years before moving to North Battleford to play AAA midgets for one year.”

Shepherd says during the offseason he works at his family farm before moving into Saskatoon to train and skate until the hockey season starts.

“My family was with me when we won the Canterra Cup final, and included my mom, dad, brother and sister and my grandparents. My billet family from 2023 in Battleford were also there so it was a very special moment to have everyone be a part of that accomplishment,” adds Shepherd.

Assistant Coach for the Melfort Mustangs, Macklin’s Tye Scherger says of Shepherd, “Austin Shepherd has had such an incredible year as a rookie. His work ethic is through the roof and most importantly he's a team-first guy. He brings lots of energy and always has a good attitude. I'm excited to continue competing with him for a national championship.” 

Scherger says his role with Melfort began with his AJHL career with Olds, Alta., of which he was then traded to Melfort Mustangs for his 19 and 20-year-old season.

“Last summer the head coach of the Melfort Mustangs Trevor Blevins, who was my coach from when I played, gave me a call and asked if I had wanted a coaching job. This is my first time in this role.”

Scherger said in the offseason he will stay in Melfort and continue to get involved with the community for the Mustangs organization, as well as work for his former billet family. 

Scherger is another Macklin Minor Hockey alum, who graduated to West Central Wheat Kings AA program in peewee and bantam before moving to the Battlefords to play three years with the North Battleford AAA Stars.

“To be honest Kaden and I have not connected too much as I've been busy doing lots of scouting on the other teams and getting prepped for Oakville but obviously, it's unreal for two Macklin boys to represent Macklin in a national championship. One thing about Macklin is that it has such a good hockey community and produces strong athletes,” states Scherger.

Scherger said at present, while he is focused on getting a national championship for Saskatchewan, he is reassured after signing a two-year contract extension with the Mustangs to continue his development in a coaching role. As well, he is motivated to continue to help build the team’s success story.

“Obviously I can't thank my family and friends enough, the amount of support they have given me has been amazing. My family has always followed my hockey path whether it was playing or coaching, so I give them a huge shoutout. Also, to the Macklin community, thank you for all the support and letting me start my coaching career with the U18s last year,” acknowledges Scherger.

Kaden Veller, whose Macklin family lived next door to the Schergers, played hockey last year also with the AAA Battlefords Stars after playing minor hockey in Macklin until U13 level. When he first started playing spring hockey, he was a team mate to Austin Shepherd, beginning may years of being teammates through AA and AAA hockey teams.

Veller’s mom, Nancy, tells the Press-Herald and, “Everyone is pretty excited around here; there have been numerous chats throughout the season on the front driveways. Now that they are both advancing and meeting each other at Centennial Cup- it’s a surreal moment.”

“For Kaden it definitely doesn’t feel real yet, and I’m sure Schergers feel the same. As neighbors, there has been equal support throughout the season. It’ll be fun and looking forward to it. I think we can speak on behalf of both Schergers and ourselves, how proud we are to be from Macklin and thankful for all the coaches in minor hockey, AA & AAA that have helped take the boys to this national championship,” said Veller

Kaden’s family was with him when they won their championship to advance to Centennial Cup, driving 16 hours there to catch a thrilling overtime win and celebrate on the ice with him.

The Vellers will be travelling to Oakville to cheer on their son, along with his three sisters. Nancy said there will be numerous other family members making the trip and Kaden is excited to have all the support.

With this being Kaden’s rookie season, he is eligible for two more Junior A seasons.

“Kaden has had a phenomenal season this year. He couldn’t be happier with the Sioux Lookout Bombers. To say it exceeded all expectations is an understatement. The coaches, the community, the team and most importantly his billets have been nothing short of fantastic,” acknowledges Veller.

Fans can find the link for Centennial Cup under the Hockey Canada website and follow these local players in their quest for a national championship.