By Thomas Neufeld
The Winnipeg Blues saw their first week of the 2019-20 season come and go with a record of 1-4-0, which places them in a tie for seventh in the MJHL standings through September 29th.
The 2019-20 season is the Blues’ first season under new ownership, in their new building, and with their new look roster that includes 10 rookies.
Portage Terriers 2 game series
The team’s season got underway on the road against the strong Portage Terriers on September, 20th. The Terriers came out flying and peppered Blues goalie Cooper Hatfield with 29 shots through the first 40 minutes of action. The Blues were down 3-0 entering the third period, but Hatfield shut the door and the Blues started a comeback bid that saw them come within one goal of the Terriers, when Rhys Raeside scored a power play goal with just over 2 minutes to go in the game. The Blues pulled their goalie in an effort to get the tying goal, but the Terriers iced the game with an empty netter, bringing the final to 4-2 for the Terriers.
The Blues wouldn’t have to wait long to get another chance to take down the Terriers, as their next game, and first game in their new home, took place two days later at the RINK Training Centre against the same Terriers.
The Blues opened the scoring 4:49 into the game on a goal by rookie defenseman, Duncan Jowett, but the lead was short lived, as the Terriers responded less than 40 seconds later, and peppered Hatfield with 29 shots through 2 periods for the second game in a row; taking a 3-1 lead into the second intermission. The Terriers stayed on the attack and scored early in the third, on their way to another 4-2 win over the Blues. Hatfield faced over 40 shots for the second game in a row.
Season’s first win
The Blues’ next chance to pick up their first win would come 2 days later at home against the Neepawa Natives. The Natives took an early 2-0 lead, but the Blues closed the deficit to one before the period ended on Josiah Vanderhooft’s first goal of the season. The second period proved to be a back and forth affair, as the Natives extended their lead to 2 goals on 2 occasions, only to have the Blues score a goal not long after both times; bringing the score after 2 periods to 4-3 Neepawa. Braden Fischer scored early in the third for the Blues to draw the game even, and late in the third, Josiah Vanderhooft scored his third goal of the game, which proved to be the game winner. Hatfield made 28 saves for the Blues in the 5-4 win, Vanderhooft led the team with the hat-trick, and assistant captain Mikol Sartor tallied 3 assists in the winning effort.
Flyers win 5-2
The Blues’ final game of their 3 game homestand would come against the Winkler Flyers, who led the Blues by a 4-0 score after 2 periods, on their way to a 5-2 win. The Blues had scored back-to-back goals to start the third period in hopes of making a comeback, but they could never get another shot past Flyers’ goaltender, Dorrin Luding, and the Flyers finished the game with an empty netter. Hatfield started his fourth consecutive game for the Blues, and stopped 28 of 32 shots in the loss.
Back on the road
The Blues final game of the week would take place the following night, on the road against the Selkirk Steelers. Dante Gianuzzi would get the start for the Blues, fresh off training camp with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. It would be a busy first period for Gianuzzi, as the Steelers fired 22 shots at him, and led 3-1 by period end. The score would stay the same until late in the second when the Steelers extended their lead to 4-1. The Blues scored 2 goals in the third, but could not get the tying goal, and dropped this game 4-1. Gianuzzi’s first game with the Blues saw him stop 44 of 48 shots in the loss.
Week in review
The Blues’ 1-4-0 record wouldn’t be what the team was hoping for, but they have already proved to be a resilient bunch that will push for a comeback. Down by at least 2 goals in every game, they managed to come back within one goal of their opponent in each game except against the Flyers, where down 4-0, they still scored successive goals to come within 2 of the Flyers.
A week into the season, Hatfield and Gianuzzi seem to be a dependable tandem, giving the Blues a chance to compete every night. They have faced a lot of shots through the first 5 games, and it will be interesting to see how games are dispersed between the 2 of them going forward.
Through September 29th, assistant captain Mikol Sartor is tied for first in league scoring, with 1 goal and 6 assists, while Josiah Vanderhooft and Braden Fischer are tied for second in team scoring, with each having tallied 3 goals and 2 assists.
Week to come
The Blues’ schedule from September 30th through October 6th will see them play another 5 games, among which 2 games will be part of the 2019 MJHL showcase on Monday and Tuesday. The MJHL showcase will see them play games against the Waywayseecappo Wolverines, who are tied for first in the league with 8 points, and the Swan Valley Stampeders, who have 6 points on the season. The Blues will then head out on a road trip and play on 3 consecutive nights; on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with 2 games against the OCN Blizzard, who own a 1-2-0 record, and then play their second game of the week against the Swan Valley Stampeders.
This will be another busy week for the Blues, and they no doubt hope to build off their resilient week one play, and manage to turn those close games into more wins. It will be exciting to see where their record stands this time next week.