Superstar forwards Zach Goberis, Jake Fletcher and Kaelan Holt aren’t walking through the dressing room doors of the Power Dodge Estevan Bruins again.
Neither will Hayden Guilderson, Arthur Miller, Jake Tesarowski, Tyler Hengen or Bo Didur. The graduated members of the Bruins were some of the team’s biggest contributors in last year’s run to the Canalta Cup final against the Nipawin Hawks. And they’ve left a huge hole to fill with 136 goals gone, plus the breakout star of the playoffs in starting goaltender Didur.
“We’ve got a great group of young guys coming in here, and we’ve got a lot of second year guys who are going to step it up,” said Michael McChesney, one of the few players left over from last year’s team with experience in the top six. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s early but I’m fairly confident with the lineup we’ve got to start the season. We’ve got a good group of guys who are good players and we’re ready to rock and roll.”
Entering his third year with the Bruins, McChesney would be lead guitarist in the rock and roll band, scoring 30 goals and 29 assists last season in 54 regular season games and adding 10 goals and eight assists in 16 playoff games. Even with such offensive numbers, McChesney doesn’t have any numerical goals personally for his stat sheet.
“I just try to do what I can for my team and I’m sure a lot of the other guys are the same way,” said McChesney.
The new concert, er, season, starts Friday in Melville before the return match Saturday at Affinity Place completes the home and home.
Offensively, McChesney will have a huge load on his shoulders but they’ll be helped out by Turner Ripplinger, having returned to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League from a couple of years in the British Columbia Hockey League and Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Ripplinger will be a 20-year-old who will settle onto the top line, adding scoring, as his 17 goals and 32 assists in 57 games with the Portage Terriers of the MJHL would indicate.
Looking to take a bigger role when healthy will be a mix of second and third year forwards with scoring, hitting ability and speed. Those include Tyson and Tanner Manz, Jayden Davis, Matthew Chekay, T.J. Irey and Jerzy Martin.
“We’ve definitely got skill guys too to make plays just like last year,” McChesney said. “I think what’s a little bit different this year is we’re going to be a lot grittier, a lot more mean and make the goals easier, so to speak, by working harder in the corners and making the right plays.”
McChesney, Martin and Ripplinger have formed a line in the pre-season but there’s no guarantees they’ll be together once the regular season starts.
“I feel like we’re clicking pretty well,” McChesney said. “We spent most of the time in the o zone. I wouldn’t be disappointed if those two guys are my linemates. They’re good hockey players with a good mindset and have the same knack as me to play hockey, score goals and have some fun.”
New to the team and still fighting for a role are 2000-born players like Isaiah Thomas, Eddie Gallagher, George Cathers, Kolton Leslie and hometown product Ryder Pierson.
The Bruins have a surplus of experienced defencemen who will be the core of the on-ice leadership. Those include 20-year-olds Johnny Witzke, Jake Heerspink and Aigne McGeady-Bruce and bruising 18-year-old Austin King-Cunnningham.
Witzke scored seven goals and 29 assists for 36 points last season in 50 regular season games, while Heerspink had five goals and 32 assists for 37 points in 58 games.
Newcomers include Kade McMillen from Carievale, 6’4” British Columbian Kaden Moravek, and the potential for a pair of young blueliners in 17-year-old Jack Michell and 16-year-old hometown kid Alex Von Sprecken.
In net, Jake Anthony joins the team from the Nipawin Hawks. He was dealt just this week from the Nipawin Hawks, leading the league with a 1.94 goals against average and a .929 save percentage in 32 games as a rookie last year.
He’ll be pushed by 18-year-old rookies Kadin Kilpatrick from Winnipeg and American Grant Boldt. Kilpatrick had a 2.03 goals against average with the Winnipeg Wild of the Manitoba Midget AAA Hockey League last season. Boldt played with the Sioux Valley Stampede of the North American Hockey League’s U18 division and had a 1.20 goals against average in 10 regular season games.
The Bruins are two time defending Viterra Division champions in the regular season and there’s no indication they’ll be willing to let that go anytime soon.
“We want that banner again,” said McChesney. “ In my first year here, we got the banner, second year here we got the banner. Third year, why not? That’s obviously what we shoot for and once we get that, we’ve just got to work through playoffs…
“After winning the division, we know what the next thing to do is, and that’s to win the Bruins an SJ title.”
McChesney will help the leadership team, which will likely include him, Witzke, Heerspink, Ripplinger and McGeady-Bruce by leading by example.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are vocal and a lot of guys that show by example,” said McChesney, who admitted he may be better at being vocal than he has in the last. “We’ve got a good group here. We don’t have just one or two or three leaders here, we’ve got a bunch of guys that can take over a game or take control and be leaders.