It’s the beginning of a brand-new season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, as all 12 teams kick off a unique 2020-21 campaign tonight. This particular matchup sees the defending MJHL regular season champion Steinbach Pistons taking on the newest squad in the Winnipeg Freeze in a Southeast Division matchup.
The Pistons will begin the season on the road, which is something the franchise hasn’t done since the 2014-15 season. And they’ll begin with almost a completely different roster from the one they had when they swept the Winnipeg Blues in March during the first round of the 2020 MJHL playoffs before the current COVID-19 pandemic wiped away what could’ve been a long and fruitful postseason run.
Only seven players from last year’s final roster are back in blue and white. Gone are the likes of veterans Declan Graham, Tanner Mole, Matt Lenz, Dylan Cassie, Ryan Butler, and Jack Kilroy. Young guns in Kyle Bettens, Zach Purcell, and Tucker Hodgson will all be playing hockey down south in 2020-21, and both Carter Loney and Max Neill were dealt to different teams in separate trades during the offseason.
But Head Coach/GM Paul Dyck and the Steinbach coaching staff were working overtime during the summer months, meaning the Pistons will once again field a strong unit for this upcoming season. Returning are forwards Ty Naaykens, Rylan Bettens, Codey Behun, and Joey Dosan, as well as defencemen Curtis Ireland (team captain), Christian Riemer, and Caydin Cleland.
Dyck traded for two proven scorers in University of Maine commit Matt Osadick and Blake Burr, along with acquiring veteran d-man Zac Patrick. Along with those presences comes a strong core of young and eager players looking to make their mark such as Caden Triggs, Neo Kiemeney, Dominic Murano, Quinton Pepper, Sam Court, Denton Mateychuk, plus newly signed goalies Simon Harkness and Thomas Couture.
The Winnipeg Freeze were officially announced as the 12th team in the MJHL just over a month ago on September 4th. The franchise has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to build what’s sure to be a competitive roster in 2020-21 under Head Coach/GM Josh Green. Green is familiar to the MJHL as he served as an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Blues in 2018-19, coaching now current Pistons Codey Behun and Ty Naaykens, before spending 2019-20 as an assistant with the WHL’s Winnipeg ICE.
Almost the entirety of the Freeze roster will be making either their junior or MJHL debut tonight as Winnipeg have five players with significant MJHL experience including former Piston Evan Kaufman, goalie Will Gurski, defenceman Nicholas Trudel, and forwards Kurtis Luke and Nathan Driver.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Pistons: Sam Court
Steinbach boasts two 16-year-old defenceman in their opening day lineup in Sam Court and Denton Mateychuk, who’ll both become the first 16-year-old Pistons regulars since Justin Baudry back in 2012-13. Court, Steinbach’s first round pick in the 2019 MJHL Draft, did not look intimidated playing against older competition both in training camp and the preseason. He’ll likely get the opportunity tonight to see top pair minutes partnered with veteran Christian Riemer. Keep an eye out for the young d-man tonight.
Freeze: Ryland Hueging
Hueging is one of the many young faces on the new Freeze lineup in 2020-21. The 17-year-old forward put together a strong season with the Winnipeg Wild in the Manitoba AAA U-18 league last year, posting 15 goals and 30 points in 46 games. Hueging also tallied a goal in a preseason contests against the Blues in late September, he could be a factor tonight against the Pistons.
Catch tonight’s contest live on HockeyTV, or live on the radio at MIX 96 and Steinbachonline.com with the puck dropping on the regular season at 7:30 pm.