Terriers set to begin MJHL title defence
Forward Adam Wowryk will serve as captain of the Portage Terriers for the 2016-17 season. (File photo)
The Portage Terriers’ quest for a third straight Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) title begins Friday on the road against the Virden Oil Capitals.
The team enters the 2016-17 campaign having lost the likes of major contributors from last season, including Brad Bowles, Shawn Bowles, Nick Henry, Brett Orr, Nathan Park and Dean Stewart — among others — to graduation or other opportunties.
Still, the club has eight players back from the core that came within a win of reaching the 2016 RBC Cup, and the team’s head coach seems to like the chances for the roster that breaks training camp to be competitive.
“I think we have enough guys coming back and some experienced (additions), and young guys coming in, and we definitely think we’ll contend,” said Terriers head coach/GM Blake Spiller. “We just hope to get off to a good start again and then we’ll see what happens.”
Spiller said many of the returning players and incoming offseason acquisitions with longer resumes in junior hockey will be looked to play a leadership role and help guide the club’s eight rookies through their first MJHL seasons.
The Terriers’ coach hopes the additions of players like Jordan Thomson, 20, and Thomas Lenchyshyn, 19, and 20-year-old forwards Howard Yawit and Ashton Clark, will help complement the group of returnees and help fill the void in leadership left by the likes of the Bowles twins, Orr and Stewart.
“You can never replace the guys who’ve gone, you just hope the guys that have a year more experience, and the guys who’ve played at a high level elsewhere before can step in and help fill that role,” he said. “We only had four guys back last year and they just led the way from the get go.”
“We’re hoping that will happen again this year, and we have more guys back.”
In terms of the actual production lost with the departure of the Bowles twins and Henry up front — a combined 228 points during the 2015-16 regular season — Spiller hopes returning forwards Adam Wowryk, Chase Brakel and Jeremey Leipsic can shoulder some of the load and provide offence. Brakel and Leipsic showed good chemistry playing together towards the end of last season playing on a line with Braydon MacDonald — who has since graduated. Brakel put up 50 points in his rookie season and Leipsic played to more than a point-per-game pace. Wowryk is expected to fill that void left by MacDonald and start the season alongside Brakel and Leipsic to form the team’s top line.
“We’re hoping these guys will be able to pick up the offence,” Spiller said. “All three of them were good for us last year and we hope, being a year older, they’ll continue to help us in that way.”
WOWRYK NAMED CAPTAIN
The Terriers announced forward Adam Wowryk, 20, will serve as the team’s captain for the 2016-17 season.
Wowryk was acquired in a trade with the Selkirk Steelers last season, and has turned heads since joining the Terriers for his aggressive, physical play despite being undersized.
Spiller said the coaching staff expects Wowryk to be a strong leader for the group because of his work ethic on and off the ice.
“If guys play as hard as he does and and practices as hard as he does, that will go a long way to getting them to play the style we want them too,” he said.
Wowryk was honoured to don the “C” for the Terriers this season.
“It’s a great honour to be captain of what is probably the Junior A organization in all of Canada,” he said. “There is a really good history here, especially with Blake as the coach. They’ve won a lot of championships. We managed to win last year and we’re hoping to repeat this season.”
The 20-year-old forward said he considered himself a leader among the group last season, and will just continue to bring the same approach he’s always brought to the rink.
“I didn’t wear a letter last season, but I thought I was a leader alongside the Bowles and Orr,” he said. “I’m just going to take the same approach I always have.”
Defenceman Riley Thiessen and forward Chase Brakel were named assistant captains.
GOALIES A GO
With 2015-16 starter Nathan Park having finished out his junior hockey playing career, the Terriers were left with a hole to fill in between the pipes this season. Rookie netminders Brock Aiken and Wesley Ellingsen, both 18, managed to break camp with the club thanks to some strong play throughout the preseason, as each goalie allowed three goals in splitting time throughout the team’s 4-0 exhibition schedule.
Spiller said the coaching staff has full confidence in both netminders to perform at the necessary level throughout the regular season.
“These two guys have played well. We were 4-0 in the preseason and won at least two of those games because our goaltending was better than the other team,” the Terriers’ head coach said. “These guys have given us every indication they’re going to give us a chance, so we’re going to let them play it out and see how it goes.”
Two local players will have the chance to suit up for their hometown junior hockey club to begin the 2016-17 season. Portage la Prairie natives and Central Plains Capitals products Lane Taylor, a defenceman, and Jared Roy, a forward, cracked the Terriers’ roster.