This has been an incredible year for senior hockey teams in the area.
The Moosomin Rangers were at the top of the NCHL standings as of Friday, and the Elkhorn-Miniota C-Hawks were in second place in the North Central going into the final weekend of the regular season. Five of the top ten scorers in the NCHL are C-Hawks.
The Rocanville Tigers were undefeated through the regular season in the Triangle Hockey League, and the three top scorers in the league are all Tigers.
The Wawota Flyers are at the top of the final league standings in the Big Six Hockey League with 14 wins and four losses. Four of the top 10 scorers in the Bix Six are Wawota players.
Ross Shaw, manager of the Moosomin Rangers, says it has been great watching the Rangers come back from a slump in the past years to become a top spot contender this year.
“The calibre of players we’ve got on board this year has made a huge difference,” he says. “With the addition of the players that we had coming in—definitely guys who are fairly skilled players who add a lot to our team—it also picks up some of our other guys and everyone plays a notch above what they were before.”
Shaw says it hasn’t been since the early 2000s that the Rangers were so competitive. He said, with the addition of some new players this year, the team hoped to be competitive but had no idea the season would turn out so well. When they began to beat the NCHL’s traditional powerhouse teams—the Grandview Comets and Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks—he says it became evident that they had put together a winning team.
“We had expectations of being in that top four for sure,” he says. “It started to become evident partway through the season—when the guys were really playing well together and they were hungry to win—that we could end up in the top two.”
“I think when you start to beat some of those bigger teams on a consistent basis—not just one game out of four—you realize we’re a contender with those top teams.”
Shaw says upping the level of senior hockey in Moosomin has had a positive impact on the community.
“The comments I hear are that people enjoy going to watch the games again,” he says. “That’s huge because attendance had been dropping and dropping. It’s not something that’s good for the rink or community when that happens. I think at all levels it’s nice to have a good senior team in any community because you do get a good crowd to watch it and it’s what your minor system leads up to.
“You hear lots of positive comments now that it’s sure nice to watch a good fast game. There’s hardly been a bad game to go watch this season.”
The Rocanville Tigers went undefeated in the regular season and have defeated the Esterhazy Flyers in the first round of THL playoffs.
“We’ve got the same nucleus of guys back and a positive atmosphere and everyone likes going to the rink and playing hockey,” says Brad Hickman with the Tigers.
“Last year was strong and the year before we were a strong team. We’ve had the same core of guys for the last little while. We just keep playing the way we usually play and end up being successful.”
The Tigers lost a few key players after the 2014-15 season, and had a few new players join this season, so Hickman says they had no idea if they would do as well as they are now.
“We just started winning and kept going with it. We had a few different guys who stepped up and played really well throughout the regular season, and even in playoffs, the first round, they played well all three games.
“I think it’s good for the whole community. The young kids have something to come out and watch. The rink benefits as well. Any time someone comes out to the rink to watch, they’re contributing to the rink and we’re fortunate to have a great facility and take advantage of it.
“We’ve always had great support in Rocanville. Even on the road. It’s almost like our fans feel part of the team and they come to road games with us, which is great. It’s always good to see fans in the crowd cheering us on. It’s not just the close ones too that they come out to, it’s all the time.
“I’ve been playing for 12 years and it seems like we have the same great support from when I started. Whenever you see people on the street they always stop and see how things are going.
“It’s a good outing. It gets people out and about and it’s good entertainment.”
The Wawota Flyers finished at the top of the Big Six standings in the regular season and are starting semifinals this week.
Flyers co-manager Dean Horvath says it has been an uplifting season for the team.
“I’m not sure the last time we finished in first place to be honest,” he says.
“We just seem to have a group of guys that play really hard and work very well together. We definitely have had a good season, I can’t complain.
“We have good scoring punch and we’re also fairly strong defensively.”
Horvath says the Flyers didn’t know how the season would shake out when they started into it.
“We felt we had a good team but we also knew how strong our competition was, so we didn’t go in saying that we were going to end up as the first-place team. We were happy about it but by no means did we say we were going to be in first.”
He says it is important to Wawota to have a strong senior team for fans to watch.
“I think it means a lot,” he says. “The community has responded very, very well. Our crowds have been nothing but exceptional and we hope to have that continue in the playoffs.
“It is fun. The players work very hard and that’s why we have such a good team. As far as the off the ice, there’s a fairly big time commitment, and it is kind of fun to see your team do so well.”
Tyler Mitchell, who helps coach the Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks, says the season has been “up and down” for the team, but they have been enjoying the competitive nature of the league this year.
“Once again our record is really good. Sure we’re not in the top spot where we want to be, but all things considered we’ve had a successful season,” he says.
“It speaks to Russell and Moosomin how well they played this year, making it tougher on us.
“I think Moosomin surprised everybody. I think going into the season everyone knew we would be competitive. Grandview always is and Russell usually is. Just looking at Moosomin’s season last year, they surprised a lot of people and made it a lot more competitive.”
The C-Hawks have been a strong team for years, and he says that’s important to the communities of Elkhorn and Miniota.
“I think when you have a strong team people have something to come do. I think having a competitive team in town and having games and making the playoffs and hopefully going far in playoffs, you definitely see the effect. We have two communities that support us really well and it’s great to see them come out.”
Mitchell says the C-Hawks are looking forward to the NCHL playoffs.
“We got looking at who we might be playing. I don’t think there’s an easy way out any way. Whether we end up playing Moosomin or Grandview or Russell in the first round, it’s exciting to know that every game is going to be competitive. There are going to be no easy games.”
He says competitive hockey also rejuvenates a team.
“The guys get up for the games more and they know that every game is going to mean something and every game on the schedule can make or break your season and make or break second or third place. It definitely gets the juices flowing.”