If opening weekend of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League proved anything for the Dauphin Kings it is that there is a lot of room for improvement.
The defending Turnbull Cup champions opened the weekend with a pair of overtime games with the Neepawa Titans, with each team winning on home ice.
In Friday’s season opener, Kalen Reynolds staked Neepawa to a 1-0 lead 5:41 into the third period.
Anthony Bax pulled Dauphin even when he connected with 25 seconds left to send the game to overtime where he tallied the winner, 59 seconds in.
On Saturday, Neepawa got their revenge when Will Highet netted the winner, four minutes into overtime to give the Titans a 3-2 victory.
Following Friday’s home opener, Kings head coach and general manager Doug Hedley felt the Kings were sloppy in the second period, adding the passing was off.
“Obviously, it’s a work in progress. I think we had good speed. I think we outplayed them. I think we had good chances. Their goaltender was pretty good tonight,” he said. “We stuck with it and what do you say about Anthony Bax. He gets two big goals. It’s a nice way to open like that when you have so many new guys and you find a way to get it done.”
With only eight players back from last year’s championship squad, there are a lot of new faces on the Kings this season. Getting a victory like this will boost the team’s confidence right off the hop. Several players impressed Hedley, Friday night, including Bax, Nicholas Hatton and Matthew Gough.
Veteran Mason Smith had a great game, Hedley said, using his speed to create chances.
“(Blake) Boudreau, you could see his speed in the three-on-three (in overtime). He just kept on taking pucks away from guys,” Hedley said, adding it will take some time for the new players to get used to the league. “Once they get their feet under them and they realize what the league is about and the speed and compete that they need to work at, they’re going to be good players,” he said. “It could take us a little bit of time.”
Hedley liked the compete level from the younger players, such as local products Carter Zalischuk and Rylan Gibbs.
“I thought Zalischuk was really good. I thought Gibby was very good for his first game in the MJHL. I thought our newer guys, our younger guys were good. (Dario) Zitko was good. (Connor) Picard played well. They’re all ‘03s and ‘04s,” he said, adding some of the veterans could have played better. When it comes to putting a lineup together, Hedley looks for players with speed.
“And then you could work everything off that. If you play fast and compete hard, it causes trouble for the opposition,” he said. “Tonight, there were a few times we broke down in the D zone, but we’re just learning. The neutral zone got better as the game went on. We started controlling their speed. And offensively, this is just touching it, because I think the speed we have, and when these guys get used to the scissors support and the different ways to get to the net, we’re going to be a pretty tough team to beat. I just think there’s some real good stuff there to work with.”
Several players on the sidelines Friday night, made it into the lineup on Saturday. With 29 players still with the team, Hedley has some tough decisions ahead.
“We’re going to try and find ways to get guys in,” he said, adding he looks back to last year when he almost let Nick Braun go, but he had a good week and a couple of good games and ended up in the team’s top six all season. “We just don’t want to make a mistake. We want to give these guys an opportunity. And a lot of this right now is attitude and a positive work ethic,” Hedley said. “I know it’s not a good thing for billets and finances at times, but we just want to try to get it right and make sure we give the kids every opportunity to play here.”
The Kings are back on the ice tonight when they make their first trip north to face the OCN Blizzard at 7 p.m.
On the weekend, Dauphin plays another home-and-home, this time with the Swan Valley Stampeders, starting Friday in Swan River at 7 p.m., with the rematch in Dauphin, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.