ESTEVAN — The preseason games have been played, roster decisions have been made, and now the Estevan Bruins are about to officially begin defence of their SJHL championship.
The Bruins will start the 2022-23 season Friday night when they host the Yorkton Terriers, starting at 7 p.m. The club that won the league title this past season will be recognized before the game.
The two teams will meet again the following night in Yorkton.
Bruins head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic said they’re going to celebrate the championship before the game.
“You don’t want to overdo it because there’s a game that has to be played, and you want to focus on that game and it’s a new season,” said Tatarnic. “We’ll have a short look back.”
The Bruins went 2-0-3 during the preseason, and collected seven of a possible 10 points.
“We had a mix of veterans and first-year guys and some young guys playing, so it’s nice to see everyone playing throughout the games, and they gave us a pretty good idea of what we have for our lineup,” said Tatarnic.
The last two games against the Virden Oil Capitals were pretty good, he said, and they played well in the second and third periods of a game against the Waywayseecappo Wolverines. Both the Capitals and the Wolverines play in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
But their first period in their first three games weren’t very good.
Returning from last season’s team are goaltender Cam Hrdlicka, defencemen Alex Von Sprecken and Aleksa Babic, and forwards Kade Runke, Cody Davis and Mitch Kohner. Tatarnic said Runke has been named the captain for this year, while Davis will be one of the alternates.
It was a busy offseason for the club. They brought in a number of talented first-year players, and acquired others with junior A experience through trades.
They’ll start the season with five 20-year-olds on defence, with Von Sprecken and Babic joined by off-season acquisitions Alex Blanchard, Robbie Stewart and Owen Miley. Blanchard is the latest to join the club, after the Bruins acquired his rights last week.
Tatarnic was particularly impressed with how the defence looked in the Bruins’ final preseason game.
“If you look at the shot clock, we held them to under 15 shots for most of the game. I think it was 17,” said Tatarnic. “They were pretty poised back there, and they defended well and they did a good job.”
Among the moves Tatarnic had to make was to trade forward Zach Burns, a member of last year’s championship club, to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Drayton Valley Thunder for forward Evan Forrest and a player development fee.
Both Burns and Forrest were born in 2003.
Burns came to the Bruins last season from the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta league in a midseason trade. He finished with three goals and three assists in 16 regular season games for Estevan, and added one assist in 13 postseason contests.
He had a tryout with the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League this fall, and upon returning to the Bruins, had asked to be dealt closer to his Alberta home.
Forrest recorded eight goals and 12 assists in 54 games last season for the Thunder.
“Evan will bring speed to our line-up, and we feel he has the potential to put up some offensive numbers for us. We are excited to add Evan to our roster and looking forward to having him in the line-up this Friday,” said Tatarnic.
Other recent trades include acquiring forwards Owen Barrow and Liam Lucas in separate trades from the Merritt Centennials of the B.C. Hockey League. Both deals cost the Bruins a player development fee.
And they brought in Logan Ziegler from the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta league for another player development fee. Ziegler was not a member of the Brooks club that won the Centennial Cup national championship that was held in Estevan in May.
As of Tuesday morning, they have 27 players on the roster, with two goaltenders, 10 defencemen and 13 forwards.
Kohner is the only player who won’t be available for Friday night’s season opener. He was suspended for three preseason games and five regular season contests for biting a Weyburn Red Wings’ player in a game on Sept. 5.