By Thomas Neufeld
The Winnipeg Blues 2018-19 season saw strong play on the ice and a change of ownership off of it, making for an interesting dynamic as the team enters the 2019-20 season.
The Blues started off the 2018-19 season on a decent stretch, with defenseman Michael Ladyman having a noticeably strong start that saw him sign an agreement to play with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, within a month of the season starting.
Goaltender Jeremy Link played strong in his final year of junior eligibility, playing in 48 games in which he picked up 26 wins and sported a league best 0.931 save percentage. The team was led offensively by forward Braeden Binda, who scored 20 goals and 42 points. Dylan Cassie led the team in scoring on defense, tallying 7 goals and 30 points.
The team finished the season with a 31-22-7 record, adding up to 69 points, and ranking them 6th in league standings. This record secured them a first round playoff match up against the high powered Steinbach Pistons.
The Blues dropped the first 3 games of the series and faced elimination, but battled back by winning the next 2 games, with game 6 being back home at the MTS Iceplex, where they would have the chance to tie the series. The game was a long one that stretched into double overtime, where the Pistons scored the winning goal; ending the Blues season.
It was a tough ending to the season, but another strong year for the team; marking an eighth consecutive season the team had made the playoffs.
With the season now over, an off season of change would take place for the Winnipeg Blues, as new ownership officially took over.
During the season, the Winnipeg Blues had been sold to a Winnipeg group known as “50 Below Sports & Entertainment.” This ownership group is the same group that purchased the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, and has relocated the team to Winnipeg for start of the 2019-20 season to play as the Winnipeg Ice. With the Blues 2018-19 season over and the sale agreement finalized, the changes ownership had in mind could now be put in place. The Blues would relocate from the Iceplex to Oak Bluff, Manitoba where they would train, practice, and play games at the state of the art, “Rink Training Centre.”
With the sale and new ownership in place, there would be management changes in the months to follow. Taras McEwen was named the team’s new general manager in May, and Gord Burnett named head coach in early July. By the end of July, Nick Fuher was announced as assistant coach, and the supporting staff and skill coaches were also announced. GM McEwen and head coach Burnett have each spent multiple seasons working with the WHL’s Kootenay (now Winnipeg) Ice, and McEwen will continue to work in his roles with Ice, in addition to his responsibilities with the Blues.
The change in ownership did also lend to a change in the roster, as the Blues made a number of moves that will see the team open the 2019-20 season with a new look roster and a new program. Among the players that look to make the transition with the team into the 2019-20 season are forwards Brayden Foreman and Mikol Sartor, and defenseman Joseph Kraus. Each of the 3 players will be entering their second full seasons with the Blues. Foreman led the group in points, scoring 7 goals and 34 points, Sartor scored 6 points in the Blues’ first round playoff matchup and had 7 goals and 18 points during the regular season, and defenseman Kraus picked up 2 assists in 42 games.
To go along with the new look roster, the team will be sporting new jerseys, after a new design was released during the offseason.
There has been a lot of change for the Blues in the last year with the change in ownership and management and direction of the program, but there is no question it will be exciting to see this new look team and their program hitting the ice this season. Expect a young, exciting, and competitive team.