Pride, honour and bragging rights will be on the line when Jasper skaters jostle for position in the two-week round robin tournament, followed by the division finals on March 30.
In a league historically dominated by three heavily-favoured squads, this season has seen more parity amongst the teams. While the debate rages on whether it’s been because of injuries, a salary cap or the fact that several of the league’s best players finally moved out of their parents’ basements and out of Jasper, analysts agree that the 2014 playoffs could have some major upsets in the making.
League commissioner Jeff Bangle, who for a fifth straight season has juggled schedules, tallied scores and handed out a smattering of suspensions since the regular season started in October, is anticipating a shake up in the JHL hierarchy.
“There’s some new teams looking to make their mark and the door is open for that to happen,” Bangle said.
To bring its readers the inside scoop on the JHL playoff picture, The Jasper Local went inside the dens of debauchery known as the JHL dressing rooms, spent hours on @Tvt4mvp’s Twitter feed and assembled a panel of JHL experts around a plate of Nick’s prime rib. The following breakdown of each team should give fans yet another reason to tune into the on-ice drama.
Jasper Brewing Co. Barley Kings
The JHL’s defending champs are a group comprised largely of former Jasper Wolves, the senior men’s hockey team which folded in 2008. Loaded with skill, speed and a non-stop supply of growlers from their lead sponsor, the Barley Kings were at the top of the pile all season long, suffering a paltry three losses and scoring an average of 8.7 goals per game. As such, the Brew Pub would be severely disappointed if they didn’t take the A Final. Having said that, our analysts have reported that Seth Carlyle, one of the league’s most prolific scorers, is nursing an undisclosed injury and may not be cleared to play. Jasper locals Alex Derksen, Ryan Ewald and Jamie Black still provide lots of offensive potential, but without Carlyle, their big d-core will have to be in shut down mode and their wily veterans will have to be at their wiliest.
The Hawks have soared to new heights this season after their team’s leading scorer, Hef Dorian, returned to the ice after what could have been a career-ending leg injury last year. Speedy new recruits have helped leapfrog the team who once had the ugliest uniforms in the JHL to third in the regular season standings. Centre Tony Carlton might be the league’s best faceoff man and defender Sebastian Cholette can go from zero to fifty in no time flat. Depending on who they put in net (and if that minder can borrow some gear), the Hawks have the ability to slide into the A Final. The only team with a coach, most of the Hawks roost at JPL during the day. This makes them mysterious.
D’ed Dog Outlaws
Like any band of desperadoes, the Outlaws have the ability to put a serious scare in their opponents, but they’ve been the victims of serious shoot-em-ups, too; they allowed the most goals in the league all season. They were certainly on the wrong side of the law when officials revoked a go-ahead goal after their second last regular season game had ended, but the Outlaws will need to put that behind them and tap into the true grit of their journeymen lineup if they want to earn their spurs. If they can activate the speed of Mike Arsenault and Matt Staneland, if goaltender Dany Caron can build off his first career shutout earlier this month, and if their defense can keep the puck out of their end, the Outlaws will ambush unsuspecting competitors.
The Bonestars have had somewhat of a fall from grace since their JHL dominance during the last three seasons, but even though their lineup has been victim to injuries and players leaving town, they’ve still got the depth to go the distance. Brothers Brian and Trevor Groth have great hockey sense and are tough to knock off the puck; Jeremy Journault can burn anyone in the league with his outside speed and huge shot; and Cole Worsfold plays big in net. When they’re confident, they pass better than any team in the league but if the Bonestars want to elevate their game to the form they displayed when they backstopped their 2012 league championship, they’ll first have to stymie their current downward spiral.
Whistle Stop Bongs
The Bongs have always been different. They’re the only team that actively raises money in the community, they’re the only team that has a female in their lineup (clutch centre Colleen Olson) and they’re the only squad that not only warms up, but regularly warms down, too. No wonder they have the most fans. Despite these assets, this season the Bongs got smoked. Their 9-21-2 regular season record may be a victim of their enviable locker room camaraderie—it’s not easy to get 40 players to gel—but come playoffs, the crowd will work in their favour. To bring home some hardware, the Bongs will need extra silky skating from the likes of the Cloutier brothers, hard battling from power forwards Mike Froland and Timmy Skehill, and an outstanding run by the big man, stand-up goalie (and guy) Wayne Hynatishin.
Royal LePage Royals
Just when you thought they couldn’t get any more Euro, the Royals got new jerseys and socks that look like they were made for the Swedish Elite League. Maybe that’s why Cooperall-wearing Rich Bergen went to the Brew Pub. Don’t be fooled, however; the Royals still have an old guard. The Steve Malcolm-Mark Cowan tandem can make opponents half their age look silly and there might not be a better breakaway specialist than Rob Olson. If Kevvy Russell and Martin Hajek can get off work long enough to lace ‘em up, along with Vlady, the Royals’ defence will skate with any team in the league. The Royals were champs in 2011, and if they can stay out of the box, they have a legitimate shot at doing similar damage in these playoffs. too.
The Sox’s second year in the league saw the JHL’s youngest team improve on last year’s regular season record, which shouldn’t have been too hard except for the fact that most other JHL basement dwellers improved, too. Led by the most powerful power forward in Jasper, 270-lb RCMP officer Devon Slade, the Sox are complimented by four—count ‘em, four—young Chorneyko brothers. Oh, and a shop teacher. The group capitalized on their late momentum last year, turning heads when they won the C Final and those young legs might be a factor at the end of a long playoff tournament. Earlier this year, goalie Bennett Young was in the line of fire from the likes of former NHL stars Bryan Trottier, Theo Fleury and Claude Lemieux, so don’t expect him to get intimidated by Dave Miller’s flutter puck from the point.
Liquor Lodge Beavers
In an inconsistent, unpredictable league, perhaps no team is more inconsistent and unpredictable than the Beavers. When it comes to talent, their rich-poor gap is wider than Dubai’s, but over the course of the 2013/14 season they proved if they can come together as a team they’ll compete with the league’s top tier. Goalie Ryan Verge was last year’s playoff MVP, backstopping the Beavers to a B-side championship, much to the tweeting delight of defensive forward Troy Mills. In Paul Hardy and Marc Leblanc they’ve got speed down the wing and their talented Triple-J combo—Justin Smith, Jacob Clark and Jocelyn Nadeau—have some of the most creative moves in the league and account for most of the Beavers’ goals. When offensive defenseman Clayton Anderson has his head up, he can take control of a game, but the key for the Beavers is to live up to their moniker, i.e., work hard as a team and make sure there’s no leaks in the dam. If they do that, you can bet your nickel they’ll be in the mix. Good luck to all teams!