The Manitoba Junior Hockey League is in its last week of the 2019-20 season. With all but one of the playoff seeds determined, the postseason is set to begin in one week’s time. The 11-team, 60-game schedule has seen the Steinbach Pistons and Portage Terriers atop the standings, with Winkler and Swan Valley close behind.
The Waywayseecappo Wolverines, Virden Oil Capitals and Dauphin Kings round out the middle of the pack, while the Selkirk Steelers and Winnipeg Blues continue to fight for the final playoff position. With just one point separating the two, Winnipeg has a far easier two-game schedule, facing off against seventh place Dauphin, before battling the lowly OCN Blizzard. Selkirk will take on Steinbach and Winkler – teams sitting in first and third place, respectively.
Per custom, the league has also announced its major award winners for the 2019-20 season, as the final week of play comes to a close. The coach, defenceman, goaltender, rookie and MVP of the year, as well as the sportsmanship award were announced this past week.
Fourth-year forward Grady Hobbs (41 goals, 78 points in 58 games) took the MVP award, snatching the recognition from shoe-in MVP and league points leader Mikol Sartor (34 goals and 89 points in 58 games). 17-year-old Carter Loney earned the rookie of the year trophy, while Matt Lenz and Drake Burgin took home the goaltender and defenceman of the year titles, respectively. Ty Naaykens earned the sportsmanship award, while Kelvin Cech was named the coach of the year.
Loney, 17, of Winnipeg, put up 16 goals and 50 points for the Steinbach Pistons in 51 games, while also dressing in the CJHL Prospects Game and walking away as top combine performer. he also spent time with Hockey Canada, competing in the World Junior A Challenge as a member of Canada West.
Fellow Piston, Lenz, put together another strong campaign for Steinbach, leading the league in wins (29), save percentage (.922) and goals against average (2.13). The 20-year-old’s overall record of 29-4-4 with one shutout has helped the Pistons to a first-place finish.
Burgin, 19, of Winnipeg, served in a leadership role in his second season with the Winkler Flyers. Following a seven-goal, 22-point 2018-19 campaign, the former Winnipeg Wild midget AAA star defenceman put up 11 goals and 52 points in 59 games for Winkler, serving in a much greater role.
Burgin’s coach, Kelvin Cech moved to the MJHL for the 2019-20 season, and found himself propelling his new club to a playoff appearance, following a 2018-19 campaign that saw the team miss out on the postseason. Cech moved to Winkler following three seasons in U-Sports with UBC. His team will finish third and is currently 37-17-5 with one game to play.
Naaykens, a 19-year-old forward out of Winnipeg, earned 23 goals, 55 points and just 12 penalty minutes in 57 games for the Pistons this past season. With 39 goals, 103 points and 38 penalty minutes in 124 total MJHL games, Naaykens’ two-year career has been one of gentleness, considering his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame.