The JHL playoffs are upon us. it Seems like only yesterday that the 2015/16 season shot out of the gates, but as we cruise into March it is time once again to take a look at the playoff contenders and the pretenders; those with puck luck and those out-of-luck; the playmakers and the pylons…the...you get the idea. Barley Kings It’s hard not to think the Barley Kings aren’t the favourites once again, but depending on who makes it to the rink down the stretch, they might not be as much of a lock as in previous years. They’ve still got a high-powered offence and grinders galore, but if Alex Derksen is stuck up in Fort McMurray for the playoffs, you’ll start to see some chinks in the armour. They’ll likely breeze into the A-side, but don’t be shocked if once there they see some competition. There’s a lot to be said for big game experience, however, and this team has more of it than any other.
Beavers It’s been a frustrating season for the Beavers. Players who anchored the team’s incredible playoff run to the 2015 finals left town before the season started. New recruits haven’t been able to shirk their jobs on game nights and injuries have plagued many of those who remain. The long and short is that the Beavers are happy if they can get 10 guys out to the rink. Goalie Ryan Verge is the JHL’s busiest keeper but even he can’t stop 50 shots every outing. Look for a rebuild next year.
Bonestars With the addition of Troy Valcourt and CNer Adam Tomkow, the Bonestars are the team that should put the biggest scare in the current champs. They’ve got a solid blue line, sniping prowess, size, speed and grit. Plus their goalie, Cole Worsfold, is lights-out. Like the Barley Kings, the Bonestars’ core have been playing hockey together for a generation; their individual talents are many, but when they play as a team, they’re almost impossible to stop. For the last two years they have watched the finals from the sidelines. They want very much to end that pattern this year.
Bongs Last year it seemed like any team could smoke the Bongs. This season, however, they’re the ones toking…er, taking, it to their opponents. Improvements up front have added to their speed and their ability to put the puck in the net. On the point, young Jake Delorme is a powerful guy with a long reach and a heavy shot. The Bongs have always been a team that thrives on momentum; if they have it, they’re tough to play against. If they don’t, they can self-destruct. Few clubs are as diverse—three females grace the roster—or as passionate. Don’t count them out.
Hawks The revamped Hawks might not have the experience of other JHL teams but they’ve got plenty of drive. Aggressive on the puck and with explosive speed, their x-factor might be their newness. Most JHLers know what to expect from the teams who are long in the tooth; being a retooled squad, the Hawks could very easily take other clubs by surprise. More than a few of their players know how to get to the net and if they can keep their head in the game and bury the biscuit, they might catch the veteran teams off-guard.
Jets The Jets are a team who have a few players that can make you look silly, but who likely lack the depth to make a serious threat to the more established franchises. They’ve got good wheels, can score in bursts and they’re way better than they were last year, however, they don’t yet have the passing game that makes the Bonestars or Barley Kings, for example, so consistently deadly. That’s not to say that if the Jets get a few bounces they can’t find their way into the B-Final. They’re the definite underdogs, which in high pressure games, can work out for a team.
Outlaws Outlaw Victor Vassalo pretty much epitomizes his entire team: just when you think you’ll easily take the puck away from him, he dangles through your legs and roofs it over your goalie’s glove hand. The Outlaws come across as kind of rag-tag and half-hearted, but then they put together a big league sequence that makes you wonder, if they could get Adam Newton fired up, would he be the nastiest power forward in the JHL? Known less for their hands and more for their sticks, The Outlaws know as well as any team that the battles in the playoffs are won along the boards. They’re happy to meet you there.
Royals The Royals have something like 140 players on their roster, including the only Mexican in the JHL, so it’s difficult to evaluate them on any given night and expect your analysis to hold up. That said, whichever team they put out there is typically rock solid; the problem is, with such a huge lineup, it’s often tough for guys to get enough ice time to get into the game. They’ve got power and toughness in spades, an athletic goalie in Cam Vos and a good mix of veterans and youth to challenge any opponents. However, unless the Royals start making cuts, they might have too many cooks in the kitchen to get into the A final. Psst—the Beavers need players!