Western States Hockey League

Western States Hockey League: Superior Roughriders to feature largely new squad

Western States Hockey League: Superior Roughriders to feature largely new squad

By Brian Lester

When Superior RoughRiders head coach Paul Depuydt was asked how the summer went in terms of recruitinCR.RoughRiders.LOGOg, his answer was pretty simple.

“It’s been busy,” DePuydt said. “I would say probably half of our team is going to be new this season.”

But that is typical in the world of junior hockey, where players come and go. Because of that, the focus in training camp, which started on Labor Day weekend, will be on getting new players ready to play in the always rugged Western States Hockey League.

The season starts on Oct. 1 with a two-game road swing in Denver against the Colorado Evolution.

“Not all of the players are accustomed to hockey at this level,” DePuydt said. “You have to get them used to playing hockey here and to the ideals we have for our team, both on and off the ice. If they believe in our system and work hard, they will be successful.”

Superior is coming off a year where it won 26 of its 52 games. The RoughRiders finished fourth in the Mountain Division and will start off another season at the end of September.

While competing for a division crown is important, it’s not the only thing that matters as far as DePuydt is concerned.

“We want to develop the players as much as possible and help them get to the next level,” DePuydt said. “We also want them to do things the right way off the ice.”

Nothing will come easy this season and the RoughRiders understand they have to earn every win they get in a league considered to be one of the best in the country.

“This is an incredibly tough league and the level of play seems to get better every year,” DePuydt said. “The talent pool is very deep in the league and we feel like we have players who can compete hard. As long as they push each other and continue to improve, we should have a good season.”

 

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Returning players should lift Dallas Snipers to new heights

Our July 2016 cover feature, “Wide-Open Country” 

Western States Hockey League: Returning players should lift Dallas Snipers to new heights

Western States Hockey League: Returning players should lift Dallas Snipers to new heights

By Brian Lester

Aaron Davis is still working on putting his Dallas Snipers roster together for the upcoming Western States Hockey League season.

With a young team a year ago that won just 19 games, the Snipers head coach is confident his team will be much improved this season as several of the players are set to return.Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Dallas Snipers,Aaron Davis,USA Junior Hockey

“We have about eight to 10 guys coming back, but possibly a few more depending on players trying out at [NAHL] camps. Hopefully we’ll get a few more guys with experience. We are also looking at some European guys who could end up playing for us if they don’t make one of the leagues over there.”

The Snipers finished last in the Mid-Western Division, but Davis has hit the recruiting trail hard and feels good about the way things are going so far.

“I feel like we are going in the right direction,” Davis said. “We’re talking to a lot of different players, including some local guys, and we feel good about the team we are building here.”

The Snipers played well at times last season and Davis is happy with the way the team played down the stretch.

“We really came on toward the end and we’re hoping to build off that,” Davis said. “Those guys worked hard and we want to have the same type of work ethic this year.”

Not only is Davis counting on his players to work hard but he knows having players with experience will make a difference as well.

“It’s always great when you have experience on your team,” Davis said. “Those guys know what to expect from me as a coach and I know their strengths and what they are capable of doing.”

The Snipers open camp at the end of August but won’t start playing games that count until late September.

“We’ll get out on the ice and start training and it’s good we have time to get ready for the season,” Davis said. “We’re hoping to go out and have our best season ever here.”

 

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Our July 2016 cover feature, “Wide Open Country”

Idaho Steelheads reflect upon fifth Thorne Cup championship

Western States Hockey League: Idaho Steelheads reflect upon fifth Thorne Cup championship

Western States Hockey League: Idaho Steelheads reflect upon fifth Thorne Cup championship

By Brian Lester

The Idaho Jr. Steelheads found themselves in a familiar position at the end of the Western States Hockey League season.

They are Thorne Cup champions once again, winning the crown for the fifth time in franchise history in April with a three-game sweep of the Colorado Jr. Eagles in the championship series.

All three games were close, with Idaho winning the opening two games by a 3-2 count. Idaho sealed the deal on the title with a 5-4 win.

Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Idaho Junior Steelheads,Thorne Cup,USA Junior Hockey

The Idaho Jr. Steelheads defeated the Colorado Jr. Eagles for the 2016 Thorne Cup. Courtesy WSHL / Gary Ertter

“It’s a lot of fun winning it again and it feels great,” said assistant head coach Jason Smith. “There were some people who probably didn’t think we were the favorite but our guys stepped up and played very well. We gave a tremendous effort in all three games and were able to beat a very good team.”

Kyle Williams played a pivotal role in the team’s success, particularly in the postseason, and Smith said his effort motivated everyone else. He scored seven goals and dished out four assists in the postseason. He scored 35 goals in the regular season and dished out 36 assists as well.

Williams was flat out phenomenal in the series-clinching game. He scored three times and dished out an assist on another goal as he helped the Steelheads take down the Eagles. Jackson York and Hunter Lester also scored goals for the Steelheads in the final game.

“When you see your captain working hard and sacrificing his body to make plays, everyone else is going to follow his lead,” Smith said. “Our team had a great work ethic and that helped carry us to a championship.”

Nothing was guaranteed for the Steelheads going into the playoffs even if they did have a tradition of success. And nothing came easy in a league that is among the best in the country.

“Missoula had beaten us three times during the season and Colorado beat us at the showcase,” Smith said. “Colorado came into that series on a roll and played very well. It was tough all the way through and for us to find a way to come out on top is a big accomplishment. It says a lot about our team.”

There was a point earlier in the year when Idaho struggled to keep momentum, especially when it lost three in a row to Missoula in November.

“There was a stretch where things looked pretty rough,” Smith said. “But we stuck together and we found a way to keep pushing through and win games.

“We had a lot of new guys step up and our veterans did a great job as well. The guys believed in the system and bought into what we were teaching them. We really played well down the stretch and it carried into the playoffs.”

Idaho is a team that always has high expectations, after winning five of the last six championships, but Smith said the players did a good job of handling it and understood what it took to be a championship team.

“The people around the program have high expectations and coach [John] Olver knows how to lead a winning team. He did a great job with the players and always brings out the best in them. The players knew what was expected of them and worked hard to win a title.”

Idaho is expected to lose the majority of its team, but the franchise always seems to rebuild instead of reload. That isn’t expected to change this year.

“We’re already at it with recruiting because we know we have a lot of holes to fill for next year,” Smith said. “Our team is going to have a different look next year but we expect to be in that mix for a championship again.”

 

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Idaho Jr. Steelheads ‘dodged bullet’ to make semifinals

Defensively strong Oklahoma City Blazers making big noise

Phoenix Knights keep heads high after showcase, rebound quickly

Western States Hockey League: Idaho Jr. Steelheads ‘dodged bullet’ to make semifinals

Western States Hockey League: Idaho Jr. Steelheads ‘dodged bullet’ to make semifinals

By Brian Lester

As Idaho prepared for the final four of the Thorne Cup playoffs over the first weekend of April, Steelheads head coach Jon Olver took a moment to reflect on the previous three-game series against Missoula and how much it benefited his team going forward.

Idaho won the opener 2-1 and finished off the grueling and competitive series with a 5-4 victory. Both Western States Hockey League postseason games went to overtime.Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Idaho Jr. Steelheads,Trent Ritchie,Thorne Cup,USA Junior Hockey

“We had a very tough series and I think it really helped us with our playoff mindset,” Olver said. “We won both games in overtime, but we easily could have lost both games and been done with our season. I have a lot of respect for their organization. Being able to win that series gives us a lot of confidence.”

Defense has been instrumental to the Steelheads’ success in the playoffs and it’s hardly a surprise as they gave up a league-low 78 goals in the regular season.

“We continue to play strong defense,” Olver said. “We have done a good job of closing off the middle of the ice. Defense has been our strength all year and you have to be able to play great defense to succeed in the playoffs.”

Olver is thrilled with how his team has handled the challenges it has faced along the way in the postseason as it takes aim at defending its league championship.

One thing is for sure, the team that does win the title will have earned it without a doubt.

“The caliber of play in the league has really risen. The first three rounds have been as competitive as any in the history of the league,” Olver added. “It’s made for really exciting hockey and whichever team wins the championship will feel a great sense of accomplishment.”

Olver is hoping his team will be the last one standing.

“We dodged a bullet in that Missoula series,” Olver said. “We have to continue to find ways to win tight games because that is what it’s going to take to come out on top in the playoffs.”

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Defensively strong Oklahoma City Blazers making big noise

Phoenix Knights keep heads high after showcase, rebound quickly

Western States Hockey League: Defensively strong Oklahoma City Blazers making big noise

Western States Hockey League: Defensively strong Oklahoma City Blazers making big noise

It’s been a tremendous year so far for the Oklahoma City Blazers.

The Blazers are 37-6, which happens to not only be the best record in the Mid-Western Division, but is good for first in the entire Western States Hockey League as well.

“We have an older team with a lot of experience,” said Oklahoma City head coach Tyler Fleck. “We went into the year believing we could be one of the best teams. Our standards have been set high. We expect perfection and approach every game like we are pros.”Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Oklahoma City Blazers,Tyler Fleck,USA Junior Hockey

One of the keys to the Blazers’ success is defense. Oklahoma City is in the top seven in the WSHL with 115 goals allowed.

Goaltenders Filip Kostka and Ole Nilsen have shared time. Kostka has played in 27 games and Nilsen has seen action in 16 games. Kostka has made 619 saves and Nilsen has tallied 331.

“We have two goaltenders who are both big and who move very well,” Fleck said. “Our defense as a whole has played very well. We have good depth up front. The players are fast and skilled. We are a fairly well rounded team overall.”
Fleck said team chemistry has also been vital to the Blazers’ success.

“We brought in a lot of imports this year and it took time for the team to come together,” Fleck said. “The guys have really learned to play well as a team.”

Oklahoma City is no doubt a contender for the league title and Fleck is confident his team will be in the mix if it continues to play consistent hockey.

“Consistency is the big thing for us,” Fleck said. “We’ve been pretty consistent all year, only having a few hiccups along the way, but we feel like we can play even better. We want to peak at the right time and be in a position to compete for a title.”

 

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Phoenix Knights keep heads high after showcase, rebound quickly

Valencia Flyers soar above competition in Western Division

Dallas Snipers see encouraging success after first month