(Story courtesy of Darnell Duff/730CKDM)
The Dauphin Kings have won 12 of their first 14 games this season and will have a chance to improve on a stellar start to the season this weekend.
The team is in action for a pair of games, one of which comes Saturday at the Yellowhead Centre in Neepawa as Dauphin goes up against the Titans for the third time this season. Then on Sunday, the Winkler Flyers come to town to wrap up a three-game in three-night road trip.
Dauphin has used a well-balanced approach to find success this season as six players have at least a dozen points and eight players have recorded at least five.
Anthony Bax and Naaman Hofer are on top of the Kings scoring as both have scored 15 points apiece and are part of a defensive core that has combined for 51 points. Logan Walker (13), Jordan Bax (13), Blake Boudreau (13), and Gabriel Bugeaud (12) round out the six that have eclipsed the 10-point mark as of right now.
Between the pipes, it has been the Cole Sheffield show. Returning for his second season as a King, the 19-year-old from London has won all 11 of his starts. His .919 save percentage is paired with a 2.04 goals-against average across 675 minutes.
Cole is one of only two goalies in the league that has yet to lose a game in net as he’s joined by Liam Ernst of the Flyers. Cole is nearing his win total from last year when he won 15 games and there are still four and a half months left in the season.
“Once he started to dial in, he has really stepped up,” said Doug Hedley, who won his 500th game as a coach last Friday against Waywayseecappo. “He is playing the best hockey he has since he arrived in Dauphin. He’s focused and he’s game-ready, we can’t ask for much more. He comes to the arena to get better, and he sharpens his sword. Very happy that he is having success.”
Dauphin vs Neepawa:
It’s the third meeting between the two West Division rivals after Dauphin scored 10 times in the first two contests. Dauphin needed overtime to beat the Titans back on October 14 and eight days prior, they scored five times in the third period in a 6-2 victory.
Neepawa has lost two straight games coming in after they were swept in a weekend set in The Pas last weekend against the Blizzard. With a record of 6-10-1, the Titans are four points back of Waywayseecappo for the fourth and final playoff spot.
In order to find success, the Kings will have to find a way to beat Mason Lobreau. A 19-year-old from Brandon, Lobreau is one of the top goaltenders in the league with a .920 save percentage and he always gives the Titans a chance to win.
“We need a greasy road win, we have to play simple and smart,” offered Hedley. “They have some speed, and we need to control that, they always come hard at you in their building. It’s going to take our A-game to come out with two points, we have to be ready to play the second the puck drops.”
Saturday’s game starts a stretch that will see Dauphin play four of their next six games away from Credit Union Place.
Dauphin vs Winkler:
These two powerhouses met for the first time at the MJHL Showcase and treated fans to an excellent game. The game saw Winkler take a 2-0 lead before Dauphin found the back of the net twice on the power play in the second.
After no goals were scored in the third period nor overtime, Cole Sheffield stopped all three shooters he faced in the shootout and Cayden Glover sent Dauphin home with a pair of points in a hard-fought battle between two of the league’s top teams.
Sunday afternoon’s game will be the second of four between Dauphin and Winkler and the game starts a stretch that will see the Kings play four of their next five games against East Division opponents. Dauphin will play Portage, Steinbach, and Niverville, all within the next two weeks.
The game will also be Winkler’s third in as many nights after games in Swan Valley on Friday and The Pas on Saturday. Winkler enters the weekend with 12 wins in their first 14 games. Sunday’s game will pit two of the top defensive teams against each other.
Entering this weekend, Dauphin has allowed just 32 goals (second fewest in the league) while Winkler’s 20 goals against entering this weekend are the fewest in the league. Both teams are also very capable of filling up the stat sheet offensively. Dauphin has 59 goals this year while Winkler has found the back of the net 65 times. Seven Flyers have at least 10 points this year, led by Trent Penner who has 19.
Winkler also has two goalies who have been outstanding this year in Malachi Klassen and Liam Ernst. Klassen has a .915 save percentage to go along with a 1.71 goals-against average while Ernst has a .958 save percentage and a 0.83 goals-against average.
So as the Kings prepare to play two games this weekend, they will continue to look for production from Logan Walker. The 20-year-old has been nothing short of outstanding with nine goals in 14 games and he has 13 points.
To put Logan’s success early into perspective, he had seven goals all of last year. Seven of them came in 34 games with Dauphin. While Logan has been great offensively, it’s just not his offence that makes the veteran a great player. Logan’s work ethic is contagious, and he will do whatever it takes to help the team win.
“He plays such a heavy game, he separates guys from the puck, and he protects the puck well,” said Hedley. “He is very solid as a net-front guy on special teams. Game in and game out, he’s one of our top performers. Even if he isn’t scoring, he always finds a way to help the team and he makes a difference.”
Dauphin has also added to an already stacked back end as Charlie Sandven is the newest member of the club. From Edina, MN, Sandven comes in at 6’3″ and 190 pounds.
The 18-year-old started this year with the Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League. While he is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, Charlie did score eight times while adding 18 assists in 30 games last year with Edina High School in the United States High School Minnesota conference.
“Charlie looks really good, he works very hard and he’s an exceptional player on and off the ice,” said Hedley. “He moves pucks up the ice very well and he has great size and plays with an edge. We feel that he will be a great player on this team.”
The team will host Ag Appreciation Night next Friday at Credit Union Place when the Portage Terriers come to town. More than $10,000 in prizes will be handed out and the 50/50 will start at $1000.
The team’s Tractor Lotto is back for another year. The $100,000 grand prize will be given out on Sunday, December 10. You can get your tickets at Tractor Lotto.
The team has also stressed getting out into the community so far this year. On Thursday, Anthony Bax, Rhett Perrin, and Gavin Nemis alongside Derrick Brucks spent time with the kids taking part in the Hockey Cards Trading Night.
The team was also at the Dauphin Fire Department training earlier this week.