Thursday, 25 September 2014

An appreciation for CIS men’s hockey and the Huskies

Huskies goaltender and law student Ryan Holfeld in action.
            In Canada, it can be called the forgotten circuit or a hidden treasure on the ice.
            The Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey league will showcase arguably some of the best hockey at a non-professional level in the country. For a nation that considers the sport of hockey as No. 1, the men’s game at the university level will draw little attention nationally until the University Cup championship tournament takes place.
            In some pockets of the country, it gains big attention on campus when the league’s various conference playoffs hit the ice.
            On Friday, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies begin another regular season hosting their provincial rivals the University of Regina Cougars at the ancient Rutherford Rink for a 7 p.m. faceoff locally.
            The Huskies get fairly good support as about 800 to 1,000 people pack their small home barn for regular season contests. They also get fairly good coverage from the Saskatoon media outlets, who are pretty much calling this the season of change with 11 departures from last year’s squad.
            While the Huskies will contain a whole host of new players, you can beat they will be entertaining to watch.
            See players in the CIS ranks are usually made up of graduates from mainly the major junior game and also the junior A levels. The Huskies are made up of players from the Western Hockey League major junior circuit and also the junior A leagues in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
            Every season, the junior levels of hockey in Canada graduate a huge amount of talented players, who are still looking for opportunities to play. As maybe only about three players on any major junior team on any given season will have the chance to play in an NHL regular season game, you are usually looking at about 20 guys on each team that won’t make the show.
            When junior ends, players have to decide if it is worth pursuing contacts in minor professional circles like the American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and Central Hockey League or pursuing a backup plan.
            The reality of professional hockey is it is a business. You might play two or three seasons in the minor professional ranks and be done with playing the game at a competitive level. For that matter, there are numerous players that play out their three-year NHL entry-level contracts in the minor professional ranks and end up calling it a career.
            With that in mind, a lot of players choose to play on a Canadian university team and get their degree. The dream of playing professionally isn’t totally dead, but you are taking steps to move on in life.
            For those that join the CIS ranks, they are told the level of play won’t be a step down from what they experienced in junior. They are told to expect it to be on the same level of what they experienced in junior or even a step up.
The step up comes from the fact the players are smarter, as the veterans have the benefit of experience in the university classroom behind them, and they are also more mature given the fact they are older. Actually, it is pretty common for CIS rookies to encounter veterans who are on the path to marriage in their personal lives.
            The one thing the CIS level doesn’t have are the superstars from the major junior ranks that are first round selections in the NHL Entry Draft like Jordan Eberle, Tyler Ennis, Emerson Etem and Nikita Scherbak.
            Skilled players do go through CIS. Last year, Derek Hulak completed a four-year career with the Huskies being named the Canada West MVP, a CIS first team all-Canadian and the CIS tournament MVP.
            He proceeded to join the Texas Stars of the AHL and helped them with the Calder Cup as league champions. Hulak is back with the Stars this season with an AHL deal. Before joining the Huskies, he was a standout scorer and captain with his hometown WHL team the Saskatoon Blades.
            The Huskies former captain Brennan Bosch is best known in hockey circles for scoring the Game 7 double overtime winning goal that deliver a WHL title to the Medicine Hat Tigers in 2007. He moved on from playing on a potent scoring line with Ennis to a successful five-year career with the Huskies. Bosch graduated as the team’s captain and also with his degree in pharmacy.
            Current Huskies fifth-year forward Craig McCallum was the leading scorer for the Prince Albert Raiders in his final WHL campaign. Huskies rookie forward Rhyse Dieno averaged over a point a game in his final two WHL seasons with the Red Deer Rebels.
            Fifth-year standout goaltender Ryan Holfeld has stolen a few games in his time for the Huskies and posted a .918 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average last season. In the classroom, this former member of the WHL’s Tigers is kept busy with his studies in law.
            With Holfeld on the verge of exhausting his eligibility, the Huskies were able to recruit Jordon Cooke, who was the named the CHL’s goalie of the year last season as a member of the Kelowna Rockets.
            The team is loaded with good character guys like Sean and Kyle Aschim, Connor Cox, Matt Delahey, Kendall McFaull and Matthew Spafford and the names can go on from there.
            When these players are done at the CIS level, you would like to see them get another professional shot. They are usually around the age of 25 by that time, and their maturity level is high enough that you don’t have to worry about them away from the ice.
            With that said, it is money well spent to see these players perform in the CIS league.

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