The Nighthawks press the shot during the recent Winkler High School Hockey Invitational Jan. 14, 2017. (Alexis Stockford/The Winkler Times)
They are normally opponents, but on Jan. 22, six of the Morden Thunder, four Nighthawks and two Zodiacs will join athletes from Portage la Prairie and Prairie Mountain as teammates.
The top team in the league prior to the December break, the Thunder claimed the right to name three forwards and two defencemen to the 2016/17 Zone 4 all-star roster.
Keane Boucher, Finley Wheeler, Brayden Jonasson, Jordan Blatz and Tanner Wiebe will trade their regular colours for all-star white in Carman this Sunday.
“I think it’s a big feather in their cap as far as being recognized by the league and by their teammates,” coach Tyler Sloan said.
Boucher leads the three forwards in series points, coming in ninth in the league and fourth in assists with 11 goals and 16 assists in 13 games played.
The Grade 12 student was also chosen for the all-star roster last year.
“It’s fun to play with new guys,” he said. “You for sure make friendships out there with other teams. I’ve been growing up with these guys for a while and playing against them, so it’s good to play on their lines and mix things up a little bit.”
Boucher may lead in points earned, but Wheeler tops out the Thunder contingent in terms of assists. At 5 goals and 19 assists in 16 games played, Wheeler beats out all but Rylan Metcalf of the Carman Cougars in the Zone 4 assist leaders.
The Grade 12 student was a reserve for last year’s all-star game, but will join the main roster this year.
“I think I’ve been able to fill an offensive void when a couple of players were down and now I’ve kind of settled back in to my role as defensive centre-man, but also, it’s nice to be recognized in that [offensive] role too,” he said. “I feel proud about myself and our team.”
The two will be joined by Jonasson, with three goals and 10 assists in 16 games, on the front line.
Despite their defensive role, both Blatz and Wiebe also boast a spot in the series points going into the all-star game.
Wiebe, who sits 47th, has found the back of the net four times and earned eight assists in 16 games while the Thunder’s team captain, Blatz, cracked the top 20, coming in 16th in total points and eighth in assists with five goals and 16 assists in 16 games.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team that could have gone,” the Thunder captain said. “We’ve got a good group of guys here. I’m just honoured and grateful that I was chosen by my coaches to get to go.”
Now in Grade 12, it will be the second and final time Blatz will be named to the roster.
“It was good experience,” he said of last year’s match in Winkler. “It’s nice to get out there with different guys from different teams. It’s a good game. It’s the best from the league, so it’s good to show your skills out there.”
First time all-star
The sixth and final Thunder all-star will take the net Jan. 22 alongside Griffin Dyck of NPC.
Owen Domitruk was selected as one of the four top goaltenders in Zone 4 hockey by coaches throughout the zone.
It will be his first time named to the all-star roster.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Domitruk said. “I feel pretty honoured to be at the top of the league.”
With a save percentage of 0.92 and a win percentage of 0.909 in 11 games, Domitruk sits second in league goaltending standings, behind only Oren Worley of the Carman Cougars. His team currently sits second in the zone, also behind the Cougars, and he was named Zone 4 player of the week Dec. 19, another first.
“I’ve been trying my best,” Domitruk said. “It’s been pretty solid. I’ve gotten a lot of help from my team, so that helps a lot.”
NPC’s Griffin Dyck, Sam Voth, Braden Dyck and Carter Wall, along with GVC’s TJ Matuszewski and CJ Lambkin, will switch out their regular colours for all-star white as the best in Zone 4 hockey show off their skills in Carman.
Goaltender Griffin Dyck sits seventh in the zone with 13 games played, but claims a 0.923 save percentage, the second highest behind Oren Worley of the Carman Cougars.
It will be the third time the veteran Nighthawk has been chosen for the all-stars.
“It’s been lots of fun,” he said. “I know, getting together with the other teams, you’ve got friends from different places.”
In some cases, he added, he has reunited with former teammates from community leagues or other sports teams.
For his teammate, Carter Wall, however, Jan. 22 will be the first time playing with the word “all-star” behind his name.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but, I don’t know, it’s nice to know that I’ve got that kind of leadership on the team, to go there,” Wall said.
Wall added a letter to his jersey in 2016, becoming assistant captain of the Nighthawks.
The goaltender and defenceman will be joined by forwards Braden Dyck and Sam Voth to fill out the NPC contingent.
Voth sits 11th in the league points standings with 13 goals and a like number of assists in 15 games played. Dyck sits with two goals and eight assists in the same span.
Both Matuszewski and Lambkin will be hitting the ice as all-stars for the first time Jan. 22.
“It’s exciting,” Matuszewski said. “You get to play with the best in the league.”
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity for us to show our skills to the whole league,” his teammate, Lambkin, added.
The list of all-stars came as a surprise to both Zodiacs, who said they were not expecting to be chosen.
“It’ll be fun,” Matuszewski said. “It’ll be a bit laid back and it’ll be skilled hockey.”
He admitted, however, that it will be strange to join forces with players he has, thus far, only known as opponents.
Matuszewski has found the back of the net seven times and racked up eight assists in 17 games, good for 30th in the league, while defenceman Lambkin has claimed three goals and four assists.
The players will have only a few practices to hone their skills and teamwork before the puck drops in earnest this Sunday.
Game time is set for 3 p.m. in Carman, following a 2 p.m. skills competition and banquet to follow.