With the official start to the 2017-18 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season now just one day away, the Battlefords North Stars officially unveiled their roster for the season on Thursday morning at the team's annual kick-off breakfast.
Yesterday, the leadership team was announced, with Layne Young given the 'C', and Troy Gerein, Levi Kleiboer and Cody Spagrud named assistant captains.
This morning, 15 forwards, seven defenceman, and two goaltenders were introduced in front of a packed house in the lobby of the Civic Centre.
"I was a little bit [surprised]," North Stars head coach and general manager Brandon Heck said of the large turnout. "In my head, I'll be honest, I was like 'Well, seven [o'clock] in the morning, we'll see who's here.' And people were stealing chairs. It was pretty impressive for that kind of support at seven in the morning and I'm sure the players recognize it... You can't help but get excited."
The forward group, led by Young, consists of four other returning forwards: Gerein, Owen Lamb, Connor McIntosh, and MacGregor Sinclair. Blake Fennig is also a familiar face, as he played in two late season games for the North Stars and tarvelled with them to the Western Canada Cup, but did not play. Last year, the local product played Junior B and the year before he suited up for the Battlefords Barons midget AA team.
The glut of new forwards comes from a variety of places.
Veteran forward Keith Anderson, born in Oregon, was acquired in the off-season after playing in the Western Hockey League for both Everett and Victoria. Former Lloydminster Bobcat Tre Doyon will likely feature largely on the penalty kill and in the faceoff dot this year. Pre-season standout Dakota Huebner, who played junior B last season in Alberta, will likely start the year on the top line. Maidstone native Josh Sielsky was acquired from the Neepawa Natives in the summer and started to find his groove as the pre-season went on. Former Weyburn Red Wing Ryan Rothenburger, a Radisson, Sask. native, has also made the opening night roster after SJHL stops in Nipawin and Melville.
The younger 1999-born forwards that are new to the team are led by Matthias Urbanski, who has all the tools to impress after coming over from Junior B in British Columbia. Elijah Loon-Stewardson also stood out in pre-season, and even saw some time on the top line. He also showed he can play both forward and defence if needed. Jacob Tibbatts joins the North Stars after a solid midget AAA season in Manitoba, and Dayden Dvernichuk is a small, gritty forward who played last season for the Beardy's Blackhawks in midget AAA.
Heck said he's most impressed with the depth of his roster.
"I like our depth and at the same time, we've some, what I'd call elite players, who should draw some extra attention and I think we've got the depth to take care of that too," Heck said. "We've got a few more 99s... so I think we're younger than we planned but age is just a number right now."
On defence, four returners lead the way: Kleiboer, Spagrud, Conor Jensen, and Connor Manegre.
Rounding it the blueline are three 1999-born d-men in Matthew Fletcher, who spent time with the team last season but did not play in a game, Anthony Cuglietta who played midget AAA the past two seasons in Edmonton, and Sunil Sahota, a B.C. native who played junior B last season.
Heck said based off his roster, the defence will be playing a different style than last year.
"If we tried to be last year, the big and tough — we just don't have the personnel to do it," Heck said. "We've got the boys buy-in on what we want to be, which is the most [important] thing. It's not just working with the puck making plays, you've got to work harder without it to be open and get the puck out, so that's what we're focusing on, is being able to work without the puck."
The team will open their season on Friday night in Kindersley and then play a rematch on Saturday at home, when the 2017 Canalta Cup banner will be raised at the Civic Centre.
Both games can be heard live, beginning with the Ultra-Print pre-game show on Friday at 7:15 p.m. on 93.3 the Rock, and Saturday's game also beginning at 7:15 p.m., on CJNB/CJNS.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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