The Virden Oil Kings and Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks are looking to prevent the North Central Hockey League champion Grandview Comets from winning another title.
Grandview had initially announced it was taking a leave of absence from the senior league. However, the Comets are back and will be battling for the NCHL crown with the C-Hawks, Oil Kings, Foxwarren Falcons, Moosomin Rangers, Rivers Jets, Russell Rams, Shoal Lake Eagles, and the Swan Valley Axemen. The new season starts on Nov. 2.
Virden Oil Kings
The Oil Kings went 10-6 last season in their best NCHL campaign in recent memory. With some talented new players and the drive to avenge a second-round playoff loss, the team is looking for even more success.
“We were a good team last year, but I believe we have made some big steps to being even better this year,” said coach Blair Koop said.
The Oil Kings returns much of its core. Tanner Lewis is back after finishing second in the league with 43 points in 16 games and winning the NCHL Rookie of the Year award. Such players as Drake Bodie, second on squad with 33 points, and Cam Whyte, third with 17, also return.
“We lost a few over the summer, but that happens, life goes on for guys and hockey just isn’t in the cards for them,” Koop said. “We wish them well and thank them for playing last year.”
To a strong returning core the Oil Kings add such players as Warren Hunter, Tanner Koroscil, and Derek LeBlanc. A former Oil King, Hunter played recently in Wawota. As Falcon, Koroscil was fourth in the NCHL in scoring last season with 38 points. LeBlanc is a former Western Hockey League player with the Brandon Wheat King and Calgary Hitman who played pro for parts of six seasons.
“We had a great season last year. Not the outcome we wanted, but a step in the right direction. It's going to be an exciting year again in Virden for senior hockey. New team, new look - thanks to Comfort Inn/Jays Inn and Virden Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram for sponsoring our new jerseys. We look forward to having another successful season and hope to bring more people out to see some exciting senior hockey,” said Koop, who noted fans can follow the team on Facebook and Twitter.
Last year’s runners-up, the Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks, will have a new look this winter. The team returns 19 of 25 players from last season, including its top 13 scorers. However, such players as Riley Kvemshagen, Bryce Kyle, Travis Sheane, Jamie Sheane, Nat Howard and Duncan Lelond have departed. Coach Tyler Mitchell said he is sad to see them go and what they brought on and off the ice will be impossible to replicate, but:
“I think the most exciting part of the upcoming season is that it is going to feel like a brand-new team. We have had a lot of turnover since last season, and it is exciting to think about the new line combinations we can put together this year. The guys seem re-energized and there is a ton of optimism in our room right now.”
The C-Hawks have such players back as leading scorers Dillin Stonehouse (a defenceman with 30 points and 19 goals in 14 games) and Kelsey McLeod (14 goals, 30 points). The rest of their top five scorers – Curtis Oliver (26), Kyle McLeod (26), and Curtis Gardham (21) are also back.
To that group, the team’s additions include defencemen Jake Cullen and Brad Cole as well as forwards Taylor Sanheim and Bradley Bowles. Elkhorn’s Bowles played for the University of Manitoba last season and won the 2015 national Junior A championship in Portage with fellow C-Hawk Shawn Bowles, who happens to be his twin brother. Sanheim, a fellow Elkhorn product, is a former Hitmen player and played in 2017 in the national Junior A championships with Penticton.
“Having their experience and firepower up front should give us the offensive shot in the arm we were lacking in last year's finals,” Mitchell said.
Cullen joins the team from the Rivers Jets. Miniota’s Cole played in the WHL for three teams and recently wrapped up a pro career that included parts of 11 seasons.
“He should log a ton of minutes and be used in every game situation,” Mitchell said.