When the Winkler Flyers look back on the 2019-2020 season, they will do so with a lot of pride. Despite their 40th season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League being cancelled midway through round one of the playoffs, the Orange and Black got themselves back on track this season, setting themselves up for success not just for the present but for years to come.
Finishing the regular season in the top half of the league standings with record well over the .500 mark was not anything new for the Flyers, it was in fact the fifth time in the last six seasons that they had done that. What was different this time was how the did it.
After missing out on the 2018-2019 playoffs, snapping a post-season streak that dated back to 1981, the Flyers began the 2019-2020 season with a new General Manager, new coaching staff, new scouting staff and returned just six players from the previous season.
“I never really put expectations on myself or the team,” said Head Coach Kelvin Cech.
“We just wanted to have a competitive camp and a competitive team. We wanted to get better every day after that.”
A number of big moves were made in the off season, bringing in players like Jaden Townsend and Sulivan Shortreed via trade, and landing goaltender Dorrin Luding out of the Western Hockey League. Just seven games into the regular season, the Flyers dealt Captain Brody Moffatt to the Waywayseecappo Wolverines for Garrett Szeremley. The familiar faces around the Winkler Rec Complex had certainly changed.
To go along with the large number of new players already on the ice, some other early season additions also proved to bear fruit. The Flyers acquired players like Ian Tookenay and Nathan Poolman and their impact was felt right away. Last year’s leading scorer Eric Fawkes came back from the NAHL. Later in the season it was Connor Gallagher and Kaeden Tenkoppel who were added to the mix, and the Flyers felt they had something special.
It wasn’t just the new faces that made their mark. It was returning players like Jayden McCarthy, Griffin Leonard, Drake Burgin and Everett Bestland who all stepped up their game and had the best seasons of their junior hockey careers. Burgin cemented himself as one of the best blueliners in the MJHL and won the league’s Top Defenseman award and was a runner up for the MVP award too. McCarthy led the Flyers in points as an 18 year old and was one of the top goal scorers in the MJHL. Leonard made his mark as one of the best two-way centre’s in the league and Everett Bestland proved that veteran leadership qualities on and off the ice can be just as important as anything else.
From the last week of December until the last week of January, the Flyers went 11 games without losing in regulation. During their last 18 home games of the regular season, they won all but two of them.
”I knew before that run that we had good players and people, but I wasn’t sure we could put all that together, but we did,” added Cech.
This season saw a 15 win improvement over last season, the club had scored more goals by January than they had all of last year, and allowed nearly 40 less. They had more wins on the road by the middle of November than they were able to get during the entire 2018-2019 season. The Flyers were back.
All of the promise and excitement for what might have been in the post-season was snuffed out when the call came down that the rest of the season would be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a lot of things that are bigger than the game of hockey, and this situation is certainly one of them. However, the disappointment is still real as no one will ever quite know how this story would have ended.
“It’s tragic what’s happened in the world and it’s disappointing what happened to the season, but it’s for the greater good,” said Cech.
“We have a lot of good returning players sitting at home and can’t wait to get to work and get back. It’s not a typical offseason in some ways because there is a lot of unfinished business.”
Four of the Flyers’ Top Five scorers will be eligible to return next season with Jayden McCarthy, Drake Burgin, Sulivan Shortreed and Ian Tookenay all having at least one year of eligibility left in junior hockey. With Alex Cattani, Grady Lane, Carson Pawlenchuk, Trent Sambrook, Jackson Arpin, Eric Fawkes, Kyle Lamoureux, Kaeden Tenkoppel, Cameron Critch, Connor Gallagher, Campbell Ens and Dylan Meilun, along with a number of great prospects coming in and the potential for off-season moves, the 2019-2020 season should be a year full of excitement.
The Flyers bid farewell to their seven graduating players as their junior hockey careers have come to an end. The Flyers would like to say a huge thank you to Captain Jaden Townsen, Assistant Captain’s Griffin Leonard and Everett Bestland, Nathan Poolman, Garrett Szeremley, Mateo Albinati and Dorrin Luding. You all wore the Orange and Black uniform with pride and represented the team and the community extremely well.
See you next season!