There’s a big contest tonight in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League as the first place Steinbach Pistons (30-8-3) travel to the Winkler Rec Complex to tackle the second place Winkler Flyers (26-10-5).
The Pistons are coming off of a tough game this past Saturday where they were blanked by the Portage Terriers 3-0. Matt Lenz took his first loss in goal since November 21st, but he still played well for the Pistons as he kept his team in it all night long.
Saturday also marked the debut of forward Ryan Butler in the Steinbach lineup, who the Pistons got from the OCN Blizzard at the trade deadline. Butler didn’t register a point but played well in his first game in white and blue, and even moved up to play with Ty Naaykens and Carter Loney to finish the game.
Speaking of Loney, Steinbach will be without the services of the Minnesota-Duluth commit this evening as he’s currently in Hamilton for the CJHL Top Prospects Game taking place later tonight. He should be back in the lineup for Friday night’s tilt with the OCN Blizzard.
An area of concern for the players and for Head Coach/GM Paul Dyck has been the power play, as Steinbach has scored only one PP goal in 2020 and the team’s percentage has dropped to 19.2%. The team has changed the way they’ve attacked opponents in the offensive zone, but it hasn’t translated into the results the coaching staff are looking for. The urgency will need to be there as tonight’s opponent, the Winkler Flyers, lead the MJHL with seven shorthanded goals on the season.
With that being said, the Pistons still maintain a strong six-point lead for first place over the Flyers, who they have a 2-1-1 record against in the season series. The last meeting between the two sides came back on December 20th as Winkler beat Steinbach 2-1 in a shootout. Codey Behun netted Steinbach’s only goal in the first period of that contest, and then Winkler goalie Dorrin Luding was a brick wall the rest of the game.
The Flyers are currently the MJHL’s hottest team as they’ve won 5 of their past 6 to start 2020, and their only loss came in a shootout to another hot team in Virden. They can certainly put the puck in the back of the net with 164 goals on the season (2nd in the league), and their defense has improved where Winkler now sits with a +31 goal differential (4th in the league).
Winkler is led in scoring by Jayden McCarthy with 25 goals and 47 points and defenceman Drake Burgin sits right behind him with 7 goals and 42 points in 41 games played this season. Luding is tied for 2nd in the MJHL with 18 wins in 2019-20, three behind Matt Lenz on the campaign.
It’s the final time this season the Pistons will travel to Winkler, and a huge two points are up for grabs as Steinbach looks to strengthen its lead in the standings.
Pistons PP 19.2% (8th), PK 77.2% (9th)
Flyers PP 20.6% (6th), PK 77.8% (7th)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Pistons: Ryan Butler
Butler has had some success against Winkler this season, netting two goals and an assist when his former team in OCN matched up against the Flyers on January 4th and 5th. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native is known for his speed and hockey IQ, so look for him to showcase that during tonight’s game.
Flyers: Ian Tookenay
Tookenay has broken out in a big way for the Flyers, scoring 8 goals and 29 points in 28 games played since coming over from the Dauphin Kings. He plays on Winkler’s top line with Jayden McCarthy and Sulivan Shortreed, giving him plenty of opportunities to showcase his speed and goal-scoring abilities.
WHERE TO WATCH/LISTEN
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 pm and you can catch the game live on HockeyTV, or on the radio or online at MIX 96 and Steinbachonline.com. Dave Anthony will be on the call with the pre-game show set for 7:15 pm.