The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League attracts players from near and far.
For example, in Wilcox, Sask. Will Dawson of the Notre Dame Hounds is about a 21-hour drive away from his hometown of Traverse City, Mich. Meanwhile, Zac Somers is competing for his hometown Melfort Mustangs. Both players are utilizing the Junior A loop to play the game they love, develop their abilities, and seek opportunities for the future. Dawson recently committed to play at the NCAA Division I level for the Air Force Academy.
“The SJHL helped me to develop my game,” he said. “With the speed of the league is played at and how competitive it is makes it a great league to develop your game.”
Dawson is excited study and play at the prestigious Air Force Academy. The school is in Colorado Springs, Colo. I’m looking forward to getting a top tier education from one of the best schools in the country,” he said. “Also to play in front the electric fans they have there, and the culture and what it means to be a Falcon hockey player.”
Dawson said he was drawn to the Notre Dame by Hounds head coach Brett Pilkington and “the history of the team and how it’s a well-known program with lots of success. Also, all the facilities and the atmosphere are amazing to develop your game. And how Brett and Dion (Antisin) push you to be the best every day and get the most out of you.”
Players come from all over to compete in the SJHL. For example, as of Tuesday, the La Ronge Ice Wolves’ roster on the league website included players from five U.S. states as well as four Canadian provinces and one territory. Last season Alejandro Apud from Mexico suited up for the Ice Wolves. He now plays in the American Collegiate Hockey Association ranks for Robert Morris University.
Playing away from home can help players – and not just on the ice. Now in his third season with the Humboldt Broncos, North Vancouver’s Samuel Marburg had to make some adjustments when first joined the team – including getting used to the weather.
“The winters here are for sure a lot colder than back home. Back home we have a celebration if it snows,” he said. “Being away from home has been good though. It allows me to be independent and figure out things on my own and as for hockey just being able to deal with the mental side of hockey alone can be challenging but we got lots of resources here and my parents back home are very supportive of me.”
There are also benefits of playing close to home. SJHL commissioner Kyle McIntyre has said he would like to see more homegrown players stay in Saskatchewan. Somers said playing for the Mustangs in his hometown is “a great honour.” “Being able to have family and friends come to a majority of the games is great,” he said. “It’s lot of fun to play in front of the town you’ve live in all your life.”
Somers’ affiliation with the Melfort team runs deep. “I grew up watching the Mustangs and always dreamed of playing for them,” he said. “My family has been billets for the team pretty much my whole life. I think having those billets as role models throughout the years really helped me push to get to this level.”
Nipawin Hawks head coach Tad Kozun said it is an honour to coach his hometown team. In his junior days, he had the opportunity to play for the Hawks – the team he grew up watching.
“You always wanted to be a Hawk,” he said. “Now we had one local kid, Finley Radloff, and he’s kind of getting that same experience.”
Radloff spent some of his life in Air Ronge. His family billeted members of the La Ronge Ice Wolves and now Radloff is competing against that organization.
As for Kozun, after he developed his game with the Hawks, he went on to play NCAA Division hockey at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. Kozun then played in the minor pro ranks for three seasons.
“Everywhere you play, it is going to shape you somehow,” he said. “I think Nipawin is a great spot. Obviously, it’s a place we hope you develop into the player you want to be. Not even just a player, but as a human being. … They are still young kids. Any way we can help them, we’re happy to do that.”