While the Stampeders aren't playing their best hockey as they hit the halfway point of the season, I would think above .500, and in second place would be more than satisfactory if you'd told Dwayne Kirkup's crew they'd be there at this point, at the start of the season. The Stamps led the Sherwood Division for most of their first 31 games, but were recently over taken by the Portage Terriers. They've got the OCN Blizzard and Neepawa Natives hot on their heels, both with 6 games in hand, and Dauphin above .500 in 5th, and certainly not out of it. Much like the Yorkton Terriers, the Stamps had a team with a lot of 20-year-old talent last season, and lost the likes of Myles Stevens, Darcy Riddell and Chris Reimer. Because of that, a lot of people (myself included) thought the Stamps might struggle to score this season. Fact is, they have at times, but their goaltending has bailed them out quite often, and they're playing a more defensive style than they had to last year, with all that high-end talent up front. Clark Byczynski stepped in and was instantly their top defenseman, and maybe the top blueliner in the league. Neither Dylan Wells or Jayson Argue are the undisputed #1 in goal, which isn't such a bad thing, knowing they've got a chance to win regardless who's in the crease.
What to expect?
Goals should start to come, with a healthy Ryan Marshall, who missed most of the first half of the season with injury, and the World Junior 'A' Challenge. Offense will have to come around from the Stamps to get home ice advantage in the playoffs, because their goaltenders will have the odd off-night, they're only human. Is there any chance the Stamps get Evan Morden back from the Everett Silvertips? He's seen fairly limited action, but is definitely capable of sticking there. The December 1st deadline is coming, and the Stamps are already getting busy, shipping out F Hugo Allard (trade), F Pearce Gourley (went home), F Connor Bowman (released) and D Michael Butler (Arborg Jr B). They've also added Sam Prpich and Taylor Epp from the SJHL. GM Guy Vestby says he's not done tinkering either. They do have to snap this skid quick though. It won't take long to go from 1st to 4th or even 5th in this Division. As you can see in their remaining schedule below, where the Stamps finish will depend on how they do against Portage, OCN and Neepawa. Those three teams make up more than half of Swan's remaining games (18 of 31). And so far, they're 1-5 against those teams combined.
What they have left: 31 games
Sherwood Division: 24 games (12 Home, 12 Away)
Portage: 6 (4H, 2A)
OCN: 6 (3H, 3A)
Neepawa: 6 (2H, 4A)
Wayway: 4 (2H, 2A)
Dauphin: 2 (1H, 1A)
Addison Division: 7 games (4 Home, 3 Away)
Saints: 2 (H,A)
Blues: 2 (H,A)
Winkler: 2 (H,A)
Selkirk: 1 (H)
Most Valuable Player
Jayson Argue/Dylan Wells, G
Yes, I took the easy way out, going with a tie, but both Argue and Wells have been the biggest reasons why the Stamps are where they are. They've both received well under 3 goals of support per game, yet both have sparkling records and numbers. The only question is if whether or not one of them with take the ball and run with it down the stretch, or if they both continue to see action.
Runners-Up: Clark Byczynski, D; Shelby Gray, F
Most Improved Player
Brad McDonald, F
From 7 goals as a rookie, to 13 last year, to 12 in half of his 20 year old season, Brad McDonald keeps progressing, and has been Swan's second most dangerous player this year, next to Shelby Gray. McDonald's on pace for 25 goals, and the veteran will need to continue chipping in the rest of the way. He should be one of those key "playoff guys" as well.
Runners-Up: Brendan Mitchell, D; Cramer Coulthart, F
Jayson Argue, G
A no-brainer here. The 17-year-old could still be in AAA Midget, but is one of the MJHL leaders in GAA and shutouts. He's been injured of late, but should be back in the near future to give the Stamps the best two-headed monster in the crease that the MJ has to offer.
Runners-Up: Dylan Reimer, F; Landon Peel, D
Most Pleasant Surprise
Dylan Wells, G
Noticing a trend? Going into camp, many prediction Caden Unger would start for the Stampeders, while the only battle would be to see who'd back him up. That changed when Jayson Argue was returned by the Kelowna Rockets, and Dylan Wells arrived from Nashville, Tennessee. The Stamps have brought in plenty of American players in the past, but not many have panned out as well as the 19 year old puckstopper. Wells has earned a Player of the Week honour once, and the Stamps have confidence in him if Argue's out for a while, or if Wells earns the #1 spot come the post season.
Runner-Up: Clark Byczynski, D