2012/2013 Season Preview
The Whitecourt Wolverines stole the show once again in the NWJHL last season, after finishing third for the first time in the teams existence the hockey club put forth perhaps their most dominating playoff performance enroute to the teams fourth straight NWJHL championship and their first ever Provincial crown.
Since that time a lot has happened in the NWJHL, Whitecourt is in the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League), Slave Lake returned to the NWJHL after a years absence, Fairview was awarded an expansion franchise, and the Grande Prairie Kings were announced as 2013 – 2014 Provincial Hosts.
It would seem that the only for sure thing this season with Whitecourt graduated to Junior A is that a new champion will be crowned in March.
Beaverlodge Blades(5 wins, 31 losses)
Not mentioning the newly named Fairview Flyers the Beaverlodge Blades are only one of two teams not to capture a NWJHL title in the leagues existence. Since joining the league in the 98 season the Blades have had an up and down ride. With 5 wins in 2011 – 2012 its fair to say that last season was a disappointment. Forward Cody Darke led the team in scoring with 26 points but he was the only forward to crack the 20 point plateau, defensemen Gage Wells was the only other player on the Blades roster to join Darke surpassing 20 points.
For the Blades to be successful on the upcoming season they are going to need a strong performance in net and will have to look at adding and add a lot more scoring depth to keep up with some of the leagues higher powered offensive minded teams.
Dawson Creek Jr. Canucks(2 wins, 34 losses)
Once a perennial powerhouse in the NWJHL the Dawson Creek Jr. Canucks fell on hard times last season finishing in last place with the worst record recorded in team history. Things won’t get easier for Head Coach Eric Fulton this season with the team losing a handful of key players to age, such as leading scorer Evan Weaver as well as Brody Brewster, Ryan Holtam and Justin McLeod. Those four players alone combined for over 1/3 of the Canucks offence last season and while neither player put up gaudy numbers they were consistently the biggest threat for the Canucks on any given night. Holtam knows the returning core is going to have to reach another level for the Canucks to get back into the thick of things with the NWJHL’s upper echelon.
Despite the departure of the aforementioned players the Jr. Canucks may benefit from the Dawson Creek Rage opting out of the NAHL, the Canucks will hope to add to an already younger roster in hopes of turning around a dismal 2011 – 2012 season.
Fairview Flyers(Expansion Team)
Shortly after Whitecourt graduated to the AJHL the Fairview Flyers were awarded a franchise to participate in the NWJHL. For most hockey historians in the Peace Region most will tell you it was long overdue. The town of Fairview could be considered a hockey hotbed having boasted a variety of players who have played at high levels of hockey. The latest being Kenton Helgesen who has been playing with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL and was recently drafted by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
While Helgesen wont help the Flyers the town of Fairview has always produced a competitive minor hockey system and it looks as though the hockey club will rely on using it to add depth to the roster. Despite being an expansion team the has been agressive in the offseason and has signed a handful of past Junior B hockey players to help round out the roster, two of those players being from the past champion Whitecourt Wolverines. With the talent already in place the Flyers should compete for a top 4 or 5 spot this season.
Fort St. John Huskies(18 wins, 18 losses)
Last season the Huskies finished with a .500 record but ended up being one of the hotter teams down the stretch heading into the playoffs. Despite losing in the second round to the North Peace Navigators they were able to do what very few could do last season to the Navs…beat them. This season the Huskies look poised to improve on their 18 win season with a core of returning players, including both goaltenders and 87 point man Robbie Sidhu. Sidhu was red hot last season and narrowly missed out on top point getter and league MVP.
The biggest loss for the Huskies will be on the backend as defensemen Dave Marshall has made the jump to the British Columbia Hockey League and joined the Victoria Grizzlies. Last season Marshell notched 48 points in his rookie season and it will be up to Head Coach Gary Alexander to try and find someone to fill a big void left on the blue line.
Grande Prairie JDA Kings(30 wins, 6 losses)
Living in the biggest market with perhaps the biggest draw it would seem off to say that the city of Grande Prairie has never seen a Junior B Championship but thats exactly the case. While the Kings have reenergized their local product they suffered the same fate their predecessor did last season by not winning a championship. It’s fair to say the Kings have begun to remake the Junior B brand in the city of Grande Prairie after posting the best record ever for Junior B hockey within city limits with 30 wins but they to eventually fell to the Whitecourt Wolverines.
With a potent core of returning players the Kings again look poised to make a run at capturing that elusive first championship. High scoring forwards Nolan Trudeau, Corey Wamsteeker, Ryan Trudeau, Devin Bell and Daniel Bishop are all back amongst the mix. On the back end Mac Putio looks to lead a strong group of defensemen which includes returning players Dustin Gould, Jared Burnett, and Nic Yee. Added to the mix are rookie defensemen Sheldon Hubbard and Tyler Knoblauch, both of who will play important pieces for the team this season and next season as Provincial hosts.
Based on whats returning it would appear scoring goals wont be an issue but Head Coach Kyle Chapple knows he will need to solidify his bottom 6 forwards to shut down other teams top lines.
North Peace Navigators(33 wins, 3 losses)
Walking away with some individual awards and coming off an incredible regular season the Navigators stumbled in the playoffs losing out on the only hardware they wanted, the NWJHL Championship, when they lost out 4 games to 0 in the NWJHL final. From top to bottom the Navigators were the cream of the crop of the league this past season but may be balanced out a little more having had to make a choice on a group of 21 year olds. Even though the makeup of the Navs will appear somewhat different they should be right there when all is said and done.
NWJHL Top defensemen Kevin Monfette is back on the blue line as one of four 21 year olds. Late season pickup Patrick Earle (who should compete for top honors in goaltending categories) is back as well and rounding out the four is leading scorer Bond Hawryluk and his brother Brendan.
Added into the mix is former Whitecourt forward Samuel Lauzon who should play a pivotal role on one of the top two lines. What has been mentioned as possibly a “rebuilding year” for the Navs no one should expect anything less then to see them battle for top spot on the upcoming season.
Sexsmith Vipers(11 wins, 25 losses)
With all the excitement surrounding Fairview entering the league there may have been one team who were a little less then thrilled…the Sexsmith Vipers. For years the Vipers have had a strong base of players from the Fairview and Spirit River surrounding area but with the Flyers in the fold of the NWJHL it will make it that much harder for the Vipers to lure players further south. If that wasnt enough the Vipers also lost their leading scorer Luke Heiken to overage.
Yet there is optimism in Sexsmith this season. A handful of new faces are expected to bolster the lineup and forwards Lance Stienke and Jordan Chase should help fill the gap in Heikens absence. The biggest void for the Vipers will be on the blue line and it will be expected for goaltenders Nigel Heath and Braydon Glinnum to steal games for the Vipers to improve on last seasons 5th place finish.
Slave Lake Wolves
After a one year hiatus from the NWJHL due to the wildfires in the town of Slave Lake the Wolves are back amongst the fold in the NWJHL. What remains to be seen is whether the Wolves will have been able to use the time off to help strengthen their hockey club. The previous two years the Wolves couldn’t climb out of the basement finishing both years with a combined 18 wins (10 in 2009/2010, 8 in 2010/2011).
With the potential of 10 players or more with Junior B experience, some of which who had played with the team prior to the absence last season, the Wolves should be able to hit the ground running and compete in games this season. If recent years are any indication however the Wolves will have to elevate their game and find some help if they hope to compete this season for an NWJHL championship.
Be sure to join us this season whether you be in Grande Prairie or elsewhere and help support your local Junior B hockey team. Opening night is this Friday at the Coca Cola Centre in Grande Prairie as the Kings host the Sexsmith Vipers. Puck drop is at 8:30pm.
JDA County Kings vs Fort St. John Huskies
JDA County Kings vs North Peace Navigators