While training camp does not start for a few days, Stonewall Jets head coach Brock Couch believes his team can improve on their performance from last season.
The team finished the 2018-19 Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League season in seventh place (23-18-4, 50 points), but knocked out the two-time defending champion Raiders Jr. Hockey Club in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Stonewall later fell to the eventual champions, the Pembina Valley Twisters, in Game 6 of the semifinals.
Couch told The Stonewall Argus and Teulon Times that the playoff run was a sign of things to come and he hopes for more roster stability this season.
“Last year, we had a few moving parts that needed to come together,” he said. “I think at the beginning of this year, we’re in a better spot roster-wise with knowing what we want and where we want it in terms of players, talent and depth.”
He added that while some of the team’s “holes” on the defence and forward positions have been filled, the team will still inquire about available players once other leagues, primarily the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, make their own cuts. Six Jets players aged out of junior last season: team captain Bryce Stovin; forwards Aiken Chop, Sam Mandryk and AJ Nychuk; and defensemen Andrew Bayduza and Braden Groot. However, Couch thinks that returning players, with one more year of experience under their belts, can fill the void.
“Keeven Daniels-Webb and Ryan McMahon are rarin’ to go. Our locals, the three reliable guys we’ve had for two years now, (Carson) Ouellette, (Brendan) Labossiere and (Brendon) Burnett. (I’m) looking forward to what they can bring this year in their third year in the league … Everybody that is eligible to come back is returning, I believe. I’m excited to see how (the) guys have developed and grown,” he said. “I think we’re going to be deeper this year. We’re not going to have to rely on one line scoring for us.”
Couch also has an idea how he wants his team to be when the regular season starts at the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex in Stonewall against the Raiders on Sept. 27.
“Fast and just relentless,” he said. “We’re going to bother a lot of teams with our speed and work ethic. I think our goaltending will be stronger, if not better than last year with (Curtis) Beck returning for his graduating year … Hopefully, (we’ll) bring some physicality.”
Training camp begins at the VMSC and runs from Sept. 3 to 17. The Jets will play four pre-season games with their only one at home against the Twisters at the VMSC on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m.