After several years of icing highly competitive teams, the Estevan Bruins will be looking to take the final step in the 2019-20 season.
The Bruins will open the season Friday night in Weyburn against the Red Wings, and host their home opener Sept. 17 against the Yorkton Terriers. Both games are against foes from the Viterra Division.
The Bruins have won the Viterra Division crown each of the last three seasons, and have also made it to the league semifinal in each of those three years. They advanced to the league final in 2018.
Head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood said he likes the group entering this season.
“Our team’s a little bit young, and for that reason, it will take some time to get into the swing of things. But I think we’ll play with speed and we’ll have lots of energy, and in time I think we’ll be a really strong team.”
The defence corps looks to be the club’s biggest strength. They boast returning players Devan Harrison, Kade McMillen and Austin King-Cunningham from last year’s team, while trade acquisition Tylor Ludwar has three seasons of junior hockey experience, including 73 games from the Western Hockey League.
“I think our veteran d-corps is probably not matched in the league, and there’s a little bit of everything back there, some size and good skating and offensive and defensive abilities, so I think it’s a good mix and a pretty mature group,” said Lewgood.
CJ Corrazin is another newcomer with junior hockey experience. Kersey Reich, Alex Von Spreckien and Dayton Deics are new to the club; Von Sprecken and Reich are both from Estevan.
Kadin Kilpatrick is back in goal for his second campaign with the Black and Gold; he was the backup last year to Grant Boldt, who has decided to play in the North American Hockey League this season.
Also on the roster to start the year are Keenan Rancier, who was acquired from the Prince George Spruce Kings of the B.C. Hockey League last season after helping that club win a league title, and rookie netminder Randy Cooke.
Lewgood said he is confident in the team’s goaltending entering the season.
Up front, the Bruins will be looking for offence by committee, as they lost their top three scoring forwards to graduation, while a fourth, TJ Irey, opted to play in the NAHL.
“We always turn over a lot of scoring, but I think the key to this is we have young players who are going to grow into those roles. It’s not easy for those guys to pick up where they left off from midget, but in time, as they learn the (junior hockey) level and the pace of play, and adjust to the strength of the opposing player, they’ll have to score by committee and play good defensive hockey.”
Jayden Davis, who will be the team’s captain this season, is the top returning scorer after putting up 13 goals and 35 points in 52 games. He is entering his fourth and final season of junior hockey.
Other returning forwards are Kolton Leslie, Eddie Gallagher, Ryder Pierson, Isaiah Thomas and Tanner and Tyson Manz. Devon Cyr, who spent the past two seasons with the Kindersley Klippers, was acquired from the Bonnyville Pontiacs in the offseason.
New to the team are Caleb Petrie, Cody Davis, Dain Sardelli, Griffin Asham-Moroz, Tyler Savage, Mason Strutt, Nikolas Sombrowski and Troy Hamilton. Cody Davis is Jayden Davis’ younger brother.
Players such as Thomas and Gallagher up front and McMillen on the back end are among those that Lewgood expects could have a big year due to greater opportunities.
“I’m certain with those guys’ work ethic and attention to detail and drive, they’ll find the way to not only make the jump and adequately take on those challenges, but they’ll thrive and we’ll see significant output from those guys offensively,” said Lewgood.
As for the rookies, Asham-Moroz and Savage have left an impression on the coaches as players with offensive skill who should be productive.
Harrison and McMillen will be alternate captains this year, Lewgood said, and they’ll add to the leadership team as they learn more about their players.
Jayden Davis said he hopes he can guide the team to a league championship this season.
“That’s what we’ve been looking for every year since I’ve got here. We always strive to be the best in the league, and hopefully this year’s the year.”
A lifelong Bruin fan who grew up in Alameda, he has been part of the team’s success the past three seasons.
And he believes Bruin fans should expect success. It’s a passionate hockey market, and Estevan provides a great atmosphere to play hockey.
There are high expectations, but that should be the case in Estevan, he said. It’s a great hockey city with great fans, and they have a great atmosphere.
The Bruins went 1-3 in the preseason. They opened with a 7-2 victory over the Notre Dame Hounds on Sept. 2 in the annual rookie game, but then lost 3-1 to the Weyburn Red Wings the following night. Both games were played at Affinity Place.
Estevan closed out the exhibition slate with two games in North Dakota: an 11-3 loss to the Minot Minotauros on Sept. 6 and a 5-4 overtime defeat versus the Bismarck Bobcats.
Lewgood viewed the latter two games as good measuring sticks for where his team is at, since the North Dakota teams have been skating for several weeks.
It’s hard to gage who will be strong this season. The Battlefords North Stars won their second league title in three years in 2019, and Lewgood expects the Flin Flon Bombers will be contenders with their strong contingent of returning players.
“We expect that we’re going to have 58 competitive games this year,” Lewgood said.