Area hockey fans will get to see some top AAA U18 local products when regional rivals the Southwest Cougars and Yellowhead Chiefs clash on Saturday at the Tundra Oil & Gas Place.
The Virden trio of Dexter Whittle, Braden Lewis and Eric Reid, as well as Oak Lake’s Hunter Wallace, all compete for the Cougars. Virden’s Tanner Lewis is a Southwest assistant coach. Elkhorn’s Colby Joseph suits up for Yellowhead. Saturday’s contest is part of the first annual Virden Minor Hockey Day. It will start with minor hockey games followed by the Southwest Cougars bantam AAA squad, including Virden’s Ty Plaisier and Jack Smith, playing the Parkland Rangers. The Cougars and Chiefs will battle before the event is capped off by the Junior A Virden Oil Capitals hosting the Portage Terriers.
A third year forward, Joseph is one of the Manitoba AAA U18 Hockey League’s top scorers. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder was tied for first in the league in points with 59 and was third in goals with 29 in 38 games, as of Sunday. Joseph paced the Chiefs in both categories. The 17-year-old assistant captain’s strong play has helped Yellowhead to third in the league standings with a 27-7-1-3 record.
“He is a great skater who plays well with the puck on his stick,” Chiefs head coach Chad Facey said. “He is an offensive guy that uses his teammates well. He has been a very solid player for the Chiefs for a number of years. He is very coachable and a pleasure to work with.”
Lewis captains the Cougars, who enter the week fifth in the league with a 25-11-2-0 record. The standout 16-year-old playmaker was tied for first in the league in assists with 37 and was sixth in points with 52 in 36 games. Lewis was called up to the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos earlier this season. Southwest president Grant Moffatt praised Lewis, in his second-year with the team, for having good hands, great speed and leading on and off the ice.
Head coach Dennis McNish said that Lewis is an intelligent two-way centreman who “makes his linemates better. … A quiet leader, leads by example, doesn’t say much, but plays to win.”
Reid is a “calm goaltender who combines stand-up style with today’s butterfly style to get the job done,” McNish said. He praised the 16-year-old, who played last season for Virden Collegiate Institute, for being patient on dekes and for reading passes well. The 5-foot-10, 140-pound athlete was tied for fifth in the league with 14 wins. He had a 3.55 goals against average.
“Eric Reid is backstopping his way to being the go-to guy with his recent play,” Moffatt said. “His ability to cut down angles has made him a puck stopper in his first year of AAA hockey. He dressed last year in the back-up role in the playoffs.”
The 16-year-old Wallace is a points producer at left wing for the Cougars. He was eighth in the league in points (50) and fourth in goals (28) in 38 games. Listed with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, the 5-foot-6, 137-pounder is a natural goal scorer whose “recent play has seen him make his presence felt on every shift,” Moffatt said.
McNish described him as a “dynamic goal scorer. Electric in traffic. Water bug who doesn’t need much of a hole. Excellent finish, also an energy provider.” The second-year player is counted on as a leader as an assistant captain.
A 15-year-old rookie, Whittle has been a welcome addition to a young Cougar backend, Moffatt said. He has started many games and Moffatt said he has the ability to move the puck. The 5-foot-8, 169-pound defenceman has four goals and eight points in 34 games. McNish said that Whittle is a solid two-way defender who plays key minutes in all situations. “(He) combines a great breakout/transition pass with rabid, smart defending and the ability to get point shots through and on net.”