JR.A HOUNDS SEASON PREVIEW
The 12th Century French philosopher Bernard of Chartres is alleged to have coined the concept of gaining confidence, understanding for the future by virtue of ‘being perched on the shoulders of giants’ – by gleaning inspiration from those that came before us.
For the 2017-18 Notre Dame Junior ‘A’ Hounds, who will drop the puck on their new campaign on Saturday evening at Humboldt’s Elgar Peterson Arena, those giants can be traced back to a remarkable story of exactly 30 years ago. It is story of a group of 16 and 17-year-olds, fresh out of ‘AAA’ Midget hockey, who took on and defeated the best Canada had to offer, hoisting the 1988 Centennial Cup (the Junior ‘A’ National Championship) and doing it all with the red ‘ND’ emblazoned proudly across their chests.
The desire to rebirth the same passion and belief that the 1987-88 Hounds possessed in the present group, is something not at all far from the mind of Notre Dame’s current head coach Clint Mylymok.
“We can absolutely learn from that group,” Mylymok said.
“I know some of the players that played on that team, and I do ask them what made their team work. The biggest thing was that while they had a ton of talent, their practices were extremely tough. Their coach (Barry Mackenzie) didn’t get excited when they won, if they didn’t play the right way, and that’s one thing all good coaches look at: it’s not whether you win or lose every night, it’s what you did during the course of the game. All sport is like that: building a good team is about the process of getting better every day, and demonstrating that consistency every night.”
The modern-day Hounds enter the new Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season with a bitter taste in their mouths; last year’s post-season ended with a second round, five-game defeat at the hands of the Flin Flon Bombers, in which the Hounds scored only a single goal in four of the five contests.
For highly skilled second-year forward Chaz Smedsrud, and the six other expected returnees for this year, that result did not sit well.
“[The way we lost to Flin Flon] really motivated us this off-season,” said Smedsrud.
“It made us returnees all work extremely hard for this up-coming year; we want to make it further than we did last year, and that thought pushed us to go hard, and improve this off-season.”
Highly competitive hockey teams are more often than not built intentionally from the goaltender out, and this year’s rendition of the Hounds looks to enter the season rock solid in that regard. Off-season acquisition Jacob Standen, 19, has 83 games of Junior ‘A’ experience under his belt, spent over two seasons between the Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he was outstanding for a rebuilding Toronto Patriots team, and an explosive Hawksbury Hawks (Central Canadian Hockey League) team, that had its offence dry up during an upset defeat in Round 1 of the post-season one year ago.
In both occasions, Standen was the clear starter, and a crucial part of any club success.
“Jacob is a highly competitive individual,” said Mylymok.
“He has very high character, and a great work ethic, so he’ll be good for us not only in the net, but in the room and off the ice. In pre-season, we only gave up four goals in three games, so that’s a good indication of what you have in net and on the back end. It’s a small indication, but it’s a good one.”
Hounds midget graduate Jack Ryan, an 18-year-old native of Fredericton, N.B., will provide more than adequate cover for Standen as his backup after dominating his loop a year ago.
As Coach Mylymok also alluded to, the defensive unit looked tremendous in pre-season, and possesses a solid blend of returnees like Egan Wolford, Burke Johnstone, and Riley Perka, as well as new faces such as Olivier Lantagne, Alexander Desgagnes, and Max Salpeter.
Of those new faces, the hard-nosed Lantagne, and the offensively dynamic Desgagnes, come direct from a Quebec CEGEP championship with the Andre-Laurendeau Boomerang, and should form an extremely important part of this Notre Dame blue line.
Their championship pedigree was not something overlooked by Mylymok.
“The importance of having guys who have recently won championships comes down to a mindset,” said Mylymok.
“They have very different expectations from a guy that is used to losing. If you come from success, and you lose, it’s a huge shock to the system and you’re not happy with it, you really care. That is the type of kid I want on this team. I definitely look for winning kids, and though you can find winning kids that don’t come from winning programs the odd time, I do hunt for that type of personality, and [that hatred of losing] is just more common among successful franchises.”
For Coach MacKenzie and the 87-88 Hounds, winning became the norm, running the SJHL table in a season of 53 wins and only five losses. Yet, he and Mylymok both agree that the process, and the development of young leaders, are of far greater importance, both on a day-to-day basis, and in the long run.
“I told them that they had to make sure that every time they were on the ice that they were working hard and to their potential,” said MacKenzie.
“I told them that in 25 years from now, most of them will say it was the best team they’ll ever play on. The main thing was that everyone gave everything they could to not let that chance slip away. As much as anything, we wanted to show our values were that we worked hard, were consistent, and could play hard but not dirty. It was just about being a very focussed group that played with discipline, with confidence in the things that we wanted them to carry on in life after sport. Hockey is a great teacher of how to live your life if you do it right.”
The forward corps at the outset of this campaign will be led by the likes of Smedsrud, who was third on the team in goal scoring last year with 15, as well as returnees Colby Brandt, third-year veteran Chance Longjohn, and ex-Team Saskatchewan Canada Winter Games participant Jared Hamm.
In spite of the fact that the team lost leading scorer Ben Duppereault to graduation, and second leading scorer and SJHL rookie of the year Adam Dawe to the University of Maine, the 19-year-old Smedsrud feels confident in the group’s ability to put the puck in the back of the net.
“I think the biggest thing is that we feel we have great depth this year,” he said.
“Last year the third and fourth lines were more defensive, but I think this year we will have skill all over the lineup. I think we’re going to get goals from up and down the lineup this year, and that it’ll be a really fun team to watch.”
Additionally, Coach Mylymok feels the likes of Desgagnes and high-scoring Hounds’ midget graduate Tim Gould will be crucial in adding scoring punch from the back end, a critical element in today’s game.
“I think you need to have at least four guys up in the rush these days,” Mylymok said.
“We certainly have guys that can help out up there so it adds another element that is hard to defend. It is our job as coaches to teach our defencemen the right time to join the rush, and to read those specific situations, but while we’d love to add another high-profile forward, for now we are confident rolling with what we have.”
No matter what happens in the standings for Notre Dame this season, Coach Mylmok and Smedsrud both promise the club will exemplify the same hard-working, never-say-die type character that propelled the giants known as the 1987-88 Hounds to the 1988 National Championship.
“I always tell the players, win or lose the other team better know they were in a battle,” said Mylymok.
“They better know that when they play us, it isn’t going to be fun. I want the other team to feel like our guys simply don’t stop working, that we are going to be there trying to get pucks no matter what, that we are going to be really hard to play against.”
“Playing for Notre Dame, for our community and for Wilcox means so much to all of us,” added Smedsrud.
“With the rich history, it’s all about being a part of something bigger than yourself. We players all know we have to carry ourselves properly, be on task, and know we are not only responsible for ourselves, but for each other. Whenever we put that ND on our chest, we all feel like we want to give something really special back to everyone involved here.”