Record: 17-8-1-3 (38 pts)
On Pace: 34-16-8 (76 pts) .665%
I'm not gonna lie. Before the season started, I didn't think there was any way the Yorkton Terriers would be in top spot at this point. They finished 5th a year ago, before upsetting 3 teams en route to a Conference Championship, and from that team, they lost 8 forwards to graduation (Zubko, Smukowich, Moar, Stringfellow, Menke, Dietrich, Griffiths, Miller). Then Torey Stott chose not to return, Drew McDermott also called it quits/was traded, Clark Bycyznski went to the MJHL as futures in the Smukowich deal, and they lost Rylan McDonell for personal reasons for which he still hasn't returned. That's 13 impact players from last year's team that played in the Credit Union Cup Final. What we didn't know, was the group of new faces about to enter the Terrier locker room would pick up the slack, and then some.
Clarke Breitkreuz was in the WHL with Prince George for the second half of the 2009/10 season, and tried out with the Vancouver Giants at the start of this year. He returned, to form half of one of the top duos in the SJHL, with fellow newcomer Robbie Ciolfi. Another former Western Leaguer, Ciolfi was acquired by the Terriers at last year's trade deadline. Breitkreuz and Ciolfi have led the offensive attack, and are currently on a line with Brent Struble. The recruiting class included more impact players from B.C., in 20 year old Craig Eisenhut, and 18 year old sniper Zak Majkowski. How Majkowski wasn't inked by a BCHL team is beyond me, but after spending a couple seasons in Junior 'B' in his home province, he made his way east, and is centring another top end Terrier line.
On defense, Captain Blaine Tendler, Kurtis Decker and Kelly Leismeister are the only remaining blueliners from last year's team, when at one point it looked like the Terriers could bring back between 6 and 8 defensemen from that team. Keon Vick is also back, but spends most of his playing time at forward. 17 year old Devon McMullen has stepped in as one of the league's top rookie D-Men, and the addition of Davis Vandane from the Saskatoon Blades is already paying off.
In goal, I'm not sure there's a better 1-2 punch in the Sherwood Conference right now than Devin Peters and Warren Shymko (ND's combo of Abbott/Smidt would argue and would have a case). Peters still gets the lion's share of the work, and leads the SJHL in wins, while Shymko has the team's only shutout, and has the league's best GAA.
What to Expect?
I think a second half equal to the Terriers first half would be enough to keep them in top spot. Although, they've set the bar pretty high in their first 29 games, and it's a lot to live up to. They'll also get lots of pressure from behind them, I think from Estevan especially, but from everyone in a very competitive SJHL Sherwood. The return of Austin Bourhis (Prince Albert) and/or John Niebrandt (Kootenay) might just put their blueline over the top, but I think those are outside chances. 17 year old forward Tyler Giebel (Everett) is another WHL possibility for the Terriers as the December 1st cutdown date approaches. When and if Rylan McDonell returns, it'll feel like a top six forward for free, with him being out for the last 15 or so games. I predict a top three finish for the Terriers. With Kindersley getting healthy, they'll be a force in the second half, and a host of teams will look to track Yorkton down, so finishing first is far from a slam dunk.
What they have left: 29 games
2 Showcase (Melfort/Flin Flon)
Sherwood Conference: 15 Games (7H, 8A)
vs Melville 4 (2H, 2A)
vs Kindersley 4 (2H, 2A)
vs Weyburn 3 (1H, 2A)
vs Estevan 2 (2A)
vs Notre Dame 2 (2H)
Bauer Conference: 14 Games (8H, 4A, 2SC)
vs Melfort 4 (2H, 1A, 1SC)
vs Flin Flon 3 (2H, 1SC)
vs Battlefords 3 (2H, 1A)
vs Humboldt 2 (1H, 1A)
vs La Ronge 1 (1H)
vs Nipawin 1 (1A)
(My opinion and my opinion only!)
Most Valuable Player
Robbie Ciolfi, Forward
The fan poll I had on this blog certainly helped, but I was leaning towards him the whole time. He's a dynamic forward in this league, and has formed a dangerous duo with Clarke Breitkreuz. Breitkreuz was away at the WJAC for a couple weeks, and likely has numbers equal to Ciolfi's if not for missing a few games. Ciolfi's valuable on even strength, the PP, and especially the PK, where he has a league-best four SH goals.
Runners-Up: Clarke Breitkreuz, F; Blaine Tendler, D; Devin Peters, G
Most Improved Player
Brent Struble, Forward
There aren't a lot of players left from last year's team, but Brent Struble was one of Yorkton's top rookies last year, and he's blossoming into one of their top forwards as a second year guy. Struble is close to a point-per-game, and is playing the left wing with Breitkreuz and Ciolfi on the Terriers' top line.
Runners-Up: Keon Vick, F/D; Riley Paterson, F; Kelly Leismeister, D; Justin Lamontagne, F
Zak Majkowski, Forward
I had to double-check he was still technically a Junior 'A' rookie, after he played some games for his hometown Trail Smoke Eaters last year, and he is. Majkowski's team-high 16 goals has him on pace for 32. The most amount of goals a Terrier has scored in the regular season in my time here, was the 20 that Jordan Menke scored last year. Majkowski and Ciolfi could easily be at 20 by Christmas. Being from out of province, with other options available closer to home, Majkowski has to be one of the recruits of the year in the SJHL, and Trent Cassan, Don Chesney and Gary Carson deserve big credit for that.
Runners-Up: Devon McMullen, D; Warren Shymko, G; Kyle McLeod, Brendan Poncelet, F.
A full season from Davis Vandane would easily have him in this conversation too.
Most Pleasant Surprise
Devon McMullen, Defense
The 17-year-old defenseman may have drawn some surprise just making the team at his age. But the former Yorkton Harvest put up 3 assists in his first game as a Terrier, and has played in every situation since then, on the Terriers' first pairing with Blaine Tendler. He's looking for his first goal, but is among the league leaders in assists by rookie defensemen. And, the best part of watching Devon McMullen, especially lately, are his hip checks! He sent Estevan's Ryan Andersen propeller-like the other night... and he's had a few like that this season.
Runner-Up: Craig Eisenhut, F