An Oct. 17 slugfest in Yorkton saw the Notre Dame Hounds Juniors pass the quarter-mark of the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, and in so many ways, the never-dull, back-and-forth nature of the contest was a real microcosm of the campaign thus far.
At time of writing, the Hounds had lost 59 man-games to injury or suspension, and counting; a fact not lost on new head coach Phil Roy, a man clearly proud of the way his club has dealt with their hardships.
“I really like our group,” he says.
“We have definitely battled a lot of adversity so far, and we are also a very young team in this league, so we have already had a lot of things that put our club in a situation where they have had to stick together, and find solutions. I am happy where we are in our development model; obviously we would like to have more wins, but I like how our guys are developing right now.”
As of Oct. 30, Notre Dame sat at No. 8 in the 12-team league, where only 15 points separated first and 12th place. But their record of 8-8-2 does not begin to tell the story, as the Hounds started with only one win in seven, and of those six losses, the youthful club could easily have won at least three.
There is nothing they can do about their lost opportunities, however, and their 7-2-2 record since the end of September has been fully deserved, with marquee victories coming at the Viterra Division-leading Yorkton Terriers, at the then-Nationally ranked Humboldt Broncos, and at home against the Canalta Cup runners-up, and perennial powerhouse Estevan Bruins.
For team captain Jared Hamm, the newfound success is no surprise.
“Sure, it has been pretty up-and-down this year,” he says, “but I really do think we’re coming together really well as a team. I am very excited to see what the rest of the season holds for us.”
One area that has been consistently solid for the Hounds is one that Notre Dame has been known for over the decades: goaltending.
Veteran 20-year-old Andrew Henderson, and the 18-year-old rookie Riley Kohonick – the defending Telus Cup champion puck-stopper with the ND Midget AAA Hounds – have both kept the club in almost all of the games this campaign.
Roy is more than comfortable with either.
“I think both have had good starts to the season, and battled hard for us this year,” he says.
“At all levels of hockey, good goaltending makes a world of difference, and I know both Andrew and Riley have given our guys a lot of confidence so far this season.”
It may sound cliché, but the biggest factor for the club’s serge to date has to be attributed to their ability to take much better advantage of the scoring chances afforded them. More simply put: they are putting the puck in the back of the net.
In the first seven contests of the year, ND averaged an unsustainable 2.1 goals-per-game. Since that fateful 6-3 victory in Yorkton on Sept. 30, the Hounds have bumped that clip up to 4.1 per-contest, at the same time staying consistent over the season at around 30 shots-on-goal per-game.
“I think offensively we just needed time for guys to gel,” Roy says.
“There are only a few returning guys here, only five forwards from last year, and most of our players are coming from a different environment; so, guys have needed time to understand our systems, and what it is we as a staff are asking of them culture-wise. New coach, new vocabulary.”
“I think we have just stuck with our game plan,” Hamm adds.
“We believed that the goals will come. When I look around our room each night, I know there are tons of guys able to score goals, so it’s not a surprise that as we get used to each other, the pucks are going in.”