The Virden Oil Kings and the Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks will renew their Trans-Canada Highway rivalry to open their respective Tiger Hills Hockey League campaigns.
The senior teams get things started in Elkhorn on Oct. 22. The Oil Kings hold their home opener on Oct. 28 versus Carberry.
It looks to be another interesting season in the 16-team league. Last season the C-Hawks claimed the THHL crown in their first season after moving from North Central Hockey League. Cartwright has taken a leave of absence for this season, while Boissevain has rejoined the THHL.
“With the reigning champion Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks and a strong Rivers team in our division along with Boissevain rejoining the league and western conference, there are plenty of talented teams to contend with,” said Ryan Mathieson, the Virden team’s general manager who also coaches the squad with Tyler Campbell.
It would be a huge understatement to say the C-Hawks were successful in their move to the THHL. The Miniota-Elkhorn squad posted a 17-1-0-0 regular season record. It dropped only one game in the league playoffs. After claiming the THHL crown, the C-Hawks flew to a Senior A provincial title – capped by a 2-1 series win over the Ste. Anne Aces. Now the squad is back for more.
“The team is looking forward to the challenge of the season,” said coach Garth Mitchell, who when asked about what the keys to success this season are stated, “I think the keys are the same as last year and the years before - need to be a strong team defensively and be a team that works hard with and without the puck.”
The C-Hawks roster was not set when Mitchell was interviewed. The team does expect some roster changes, but he noted it “for the most part will remain the same.”
Last season Shawn Bowles led the THHL with 57 points in 16 games. He was tied with Gladstone’s Jesse Toth for the league lead with 28 goals. Bradley Bowles, Josh Martin, Jason Bowles and Taylor Sanheim were all in the top 20 in the THHL in scoring with Kelsey McLeod at 21. Goalie Cory Gardham had a 10-0-0-0 record with a 2.71 goals against average.
Last season was the Oil Kings’ second after moving from the NCHL. They were 14-3-1-0 in the regular season and made it to the west semifinals.
“With this being our third full year in the league and having some success prior we will be looking to build on that,” Mathieson said. “We are eager to start the season with some more familiarity, especially amongst our forwards. We feel we have a talented group and are excited to match up against a league stacked with solid teams.”
Mathieson said that the team’s past success has been due to players’ commitment to senior hockey in their busy lives. He noted that future success will be based on the same.
“The players sacrifice significant time to get to practices and games and perform at a high level,” Mathieson said. “This requires a group of family and friends whose support both at and away from the rink is integral to our success and we can’t thank them enough for that.”
Last season Devon LeBlanc paced the team with 42 points and 23 goals in 13 games. Stalwarts such as Tanner Lewis, Shane Keown, Derek Cross, and Andrew Gerrand are expected to return. So is the local goaltending duo of Tristan Rinn and Kyran Gerring.
Mathieson noted that Drake Bodie, Jake Coulter, Kyle Braybrook, and Derek LeBlanc will not be back. However, the Oil Kings have some exciting additions. Jeremy Johnson joins after scoring 48 points in 15 games for the senior Langenburg Warriors. A few familiar faces return to the team. Cam Whyte and Eric Lemoine are back after a season away, while Rob Mousseau suited up in 2016-2017 for Virden. He was with Wawanesa in 2022-2023.