It’s early November, and that means another season in the Big Six Hockey League is about to get underway. The regular season begins Friday when Bienfait visits Redvers, marking the first meaningful senior action in the area since the Coalers edged Midale in an entertaining seven-game final last March.
Saturday has three games: Wawota at Carlyle, Arcola-Kisbey at Lampman and Oxbow at Carnduff. Sunday’s lone game sees Carnduff at Redvers.
Notably absent this season are the Pierson Bruins, who have pulled out of the league. The remaining nine clubs will play a 20-game regular season, with the top eight making the playoffs. The post-season will feature best-of-five for the first two rounds and best-of-seven for the final.
Here’s a look at the squads Bienfait and Lampman will be icing this year. No one from the Midale Mustangs could be reached to comment on this year’s team.
TEAM: Bienfait Coalers
LAST YEAR: 15-2-1, second place, defeated Midale in seven games to win league championship.
INCOMING: Neil Petruic, D (Hamilton Bulldogs); Lucas Stubel, D (Estevan Bruins); Chris Stubel, D; Tyler Spencer, F (Estevan Bruins); Brock Friesen, F (OCN Blizzard); Jordy Misslin, F.
OUTGOING: Greg Lasko, D; Jeff Young, F; Scott Nichol, F; Guy L’Heureux, F; Curtis Fuhr.
NOVEMBER SCHEDULE: Nov. 11 at Redvers, Nov. 18 at Lampman, Nov. 19 at Carnduff, Nov. 25 vs. Midale, Nov. 26 at Wawota.
NEED TO KNOW: The Coalers feel that this year’s squad is even better than the one that won its first Big Six championship in nine years last season. The loss of Lasko on the back end is cushioned by the addition of Petruic, surely one of the top incoming players in the league. Petruic, 29, is a former Ottawa Senators draft pick who played 53 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs last year and has 284 AHL games under his belt.
Lucas Stubel was a stalwart in three seasons with the Bruins and the forward additions will boost the Coalers’ depth.
“It’ll help us tremendously,” manager Jordan Laich said of the additions. “We’ll be very, very solid on defence and the ones we added to our forwards will fill out our third and fourth lines.
“We’ll be stronger than last year.”
Most of the team’s returning core is back, including goalie Jackson Walliser.
“Our goaltending will be strong. We’re going to be very solid on the point and every game we should have three solid lines that can put the puck in the net,” Laich said.
After winning a hard-fought battle against the Mustangs to win last year’s championship, the Coalers are looking to get back there again.
“It was good for the league. A lot of people came to watch. It was a good, hard series,” Laich said.
TEAM: Lampman Imperials
LAST YEAR: 3-14-1, ninth place, missed playoffs.
INCOMING: Blake Jamieson, F; Travis Mosley, D; Nevan Trombley, G (Estevan midget A Bruins); Lucas Fleck, G; Darnell Fornwald, G.
OUTGOING: Steven Norris, G; Derek Wilhelm, D; Joel Moriarty, D.
NOVEMBER SCHEDULE: Nov. 12 vs. Arcola, Nov. 15 vs. Oxbow, Nov. 18 vs. Bienfait, Nov. 19 at Oxbow, Nov. 25 at Redvers.
NEED TO KNOW: Head coach Gerry Leslie is optimistic about a young team entering its third year since re-entering the league. Norris was the team’s starting goalie last year. He has moved to Weyburn and will play for Arcola-Kisbey this year. Wilhelm and Moriarty are both coaching AA teams in Estevan this year and chose not to play with the Imperials.
“It’s pretty hard to do both,” said Leslie. “They could have made it for a few games, but they didn’t want to take someone’s spot here.”
Leslie still expects the blueline to be a strength, with veterans Dustin Fornwald, Nolan Lacoste, Steven Leslie, Brad Lisafeld and Mosley carrying the load. The situation in the crease is in a state of flux, with three newcomers battling for two spots.
“We’ve got young goaltending. We’re very young in the nets,” Leslie said.
Last year’s leading scorer, Steven Lindenbach, returns to lead the offensive attack. Leslie said he doesn’t have any illusions of a charge toward the top of the Big Six standings, but he feels improvement can be made on last year’s showing.
“We’re going to have some young, enthusiastic guys that love to skate. Hopefully we’ll be exciting to watch. We will have trouble stacking up against the Bienfaits and Arcolas that have a lot of juniors, but the game’s won on the rink, it’s not won on paper, so we’ll see what happens.”
With Pierson folding, the Imperials have one less team to fend off in trying to crack the top eight. But that also means other teams have picked up players from the Bruins.
“I’d like to get into the playoffs and I think the guys would too. They’re maybe tired of being done playing at the end of January. They’d like to get into the first round. But that remains to be seen. It’s going to take a little hard work. It can be done, that’s for sure,” Leslie said.
Lampman is coming off an exhibition victory in Wawota on Friday and hosted Carnduff in another pre-season contest last night.