Humboldt Broncos grinding away as season remains uncertain

HUMBOLDT — If it was a normal season, captain Doug Scott and his Humboldt Broncos would currently be seeking to secure a top seed for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs.

But this season has certainly not been normal. After the Broncos galloped out to a league-best 5-1-0-0 start, the SJHL season was paused on Nov. 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scott has found himself at home in North Vancouver trying to keep his mind and body busy.

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“I’ve been grinding away, staying prepared,” said the 20-year-old defenceman, who during the pause has committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York state. “If the season does start up again, I can hop right back in and pick up where I left off right away. I have been fortunate enough to be able to stay on the ice four to five times a week and on top of that I'm in the gym five times a week along with other stuff.

“I’m just trying my best at controlling what I can control and being prepared for what comes next. Other than working out and what not, I have been learning the guitar and picking up an old hobby of mine, which is wood carving.”

The extension of the Saskatchewan public health order until March 19 has continued to keep SJHL teams off the ice. Humboldt head coach Scott Barney is a member of a four-man coaches committee within the league trying to work out what a return to play would look like if it can happen.

“We’re hoping to get a return to play for our players. ... Hopefully, they can finish this season off,” Barney said.

When talking about the future of this season, the Broncos bench boss said, “Obviously, those are things that we can’t control. The biggest thing right now is people’s health. That’s all we can concentrate on. Hopefully, we can get back to normal as soon as possible – not only for hockey but for everyone in their life. Everyone is going through a difficult time in their own way.”

During the pause, Barney said the team has had Zoom chats, worked with a mental coach, and been given workout plans.

“Trying to keep their mind and bodies into it,” he said. “I feel for them as players here that they haven’t been able to complete a season yet. Obviously, we’re optimistic here to get a season underway at some point.”

With a talented, veteran team supplemented with skilled newcomers, the Broncos were hoping for a successful campaign.

“I had and still have full belief in the team we have would be champions in the league this season,” Scott said. “We played some great hockey to start the year against some really good teams and that would have only continued. We have players from all over the country all coming together and we really formed a good bond together and it’s tough because right now I know we would be gearing up for a huge playoff run under different circumstances, but everyone is in the same boat and we are all hoping the season can resume soon.”

At the season’s pause, Humboldt led the SJHL in such categories as wins, standings points (10 in six games), goals for (28), and goal differential (nine). Broncos forward Logan Kurki and Melville’s Reece Newkirk were tied for the league lead with 12 points in six games. Five other Broncos were in the top 20 in SJHL scoring: Tristan Shewchuk (fifth, 10 points), Scott (sixth, 10), Luke Spadafora (13th, eight), Stephane Huard Jr (17th, seven); and Jarrett Penner (19th, seven).

Huard played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season and, with the SJHL season paused, returned to the Q to join the Sherbrooke Phoenix. He had three goals and eight points through his first 12 games with the Phoenix. While other SJHL teams added major junior players on loan with the Western Hockey League delaying its start, the Broncos did not do that early in the 2020-21 campaign.

“We went with the players we had – we’re really happy with what these guys have shown, the resiliency and the compete level,” Barney said. “It shows in the standings right now. …

“Hopefully we can get back and finish this season. I feel really bad for the 20-year-olds who haven’t been able to finish their last season of junior and were looking forward to it and playing on a good team here in Humboldt.”

Barney and his staff have been working hard at recruiting for next season. They have already announced some recruits. The Broncos have eight players in their 20-year seasons who will age out. Scott is the lone 20-year-old defenceman but certainly will be a loss as will 2000-born goalies Dean McNabb (3-0, 3.62 goals against average) and Tanner Marshall (2-1, 2.68 GAA). The team has five 20-year-old forwards, including Spadafora, Penner, assistant captain Reid Arnold, Chase Nameth and Austen Flaman.

“We’re really happy with our signings,” Barney said. “We tried to fill holes with similar players to what we’re losing. … We’ve worked hard through our scouting staff and Curtis [Toneff, assistant coach] and myself watching countless hours of video and getting the right players. For us, it’s more about getting the right people and continuing that culture in our dressing room and our community in Humboldt. Having good young men honouring and wearing the Humboldt Broncos uniform – that’s important for us here in our organization.”

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