Top Row (L-R) Carson Romeril, Cody Laskosky, Evan Tschumi, Liam Motley, Estian Coetzee, Jaedon Leslie, Ryan Grant, Stevie Bryant
Middle Row (L-R) Troy Ryan (Trainer), Nathalie Beaudoin (Office Manager), Spencer Augot, Aidan Steinke, Dawson Bruneski, Noah Tooke, Ben Evanish, Justin Young, Tanner Foster, Kelly Shears (Billett Coordinator), Stacy Crossland (Marketing Manager), Malcolm Heaven (Equipment Manager)
Front Row (L-R) Sam-Jaxon Visscher, Colton Meekhof, Morgan Messenger, Eric Krienke, Joseph Nardi, Gord Thibodeau (Head Coach/General Manager), Mike Mueller (Associate Coach), Kellan Cornelis, Mitch Lipon, Nick Quillan, Pierce Diamond
2016-2017 Season Recap
Coming off their best statistical season in franchise history the Whitecourt Wolverines would go on to have their most successful season in franchise history in 2016-17 which was capped with a North Division Championship.
There is an old saying, “if you can’t beat them, join them”, the Wolverines had their own version, “if you can’t beat him, hire him” and that’s exactly what the team did. After losing in back-to-back years to the Gord Thibodeau lead Lloydminster Bobcats, the Wolverines hired Thibodeau in June to become the team’s new head coach and general manager after the departure of former bench boss Joey Bouchard to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Thibodeau inherited a solid core group of players that included newly named captain Joseph Nardi, Justin Young, Eric Krienke, Bryson Traptow, Jaedon Leslie, Dawson Bruneski, Kellan Cornelis and Ryan Grant but there were still many holes to fill in the lineup. Just prior to the new coach’s arrival, the team swung a deal to bring back Morgan Messenger who was traded away in the previous offseason to Thibodeau’s team in Lloydminster and that would be an early theme for the initial roster building… familiarity. The first move Thibodeau pulled the trigger on was to shore up his goaltending and defence as he was able to acquire goaltender Pierce Diamond and defenceman Nick Quillan from his old team. Diamond would go on to set franchise goaltending records for most shutouts in a season and career as well as wins in a season while recording the lowest goals against average of any previous Wolverine netminder. Quillan meanwhile chewed up big minutes on the back end being very productive in both ends of the ice.
Just prior to the start of training camp another move was made and this one was to add some fire power. Mitch Lipon was acquired from the Merrit Centennials (BCHL) and he would go on to lead the team in scoring with 73 points, the fourth most point total by a player in franchise history. He was complimented by linemates Morgan Messenger and Eric Krienke. Messenger continued to prove to be one of the league’s premier two-way centermen while also recording a career high 28 goals. Krienke meanwhile was able to fire in 23 goals in just 38 games of action due to an early season injury that cost him nearly two months of playing time.
For a second straight year Joseph Nardi would represent his country at the World Jr ‘A’ Challenge while also setting career highs in goals, assists and points. His long time running mate Justin Young entrenched his name in the team’s record books over the course of the season as he became the franchises all-time leader in goals, assists (tied with Nardi) and points among several other records. The line was completed after an early season blockbuster trade brought in Liam Motley from the Camrose Kodiaks along with Estian Coetzee in exchange for Byrson Traptow and Matt Gervais. Motley quickly adjusted to his new linemates and went on to score 23 goals in 39 games with the Wolverines. For his efforts, he received a commitment from Cornell University (NCAA, Div. I).
The Wolverines got production all throughout their lineup which saw the emergence of rookie Cody Laskosky who put up 37 points. Jaedon Leslie, a second year forward, proved to be a sort of Swiss Army knife as he played in several different roles and lines throughout the season finding consistent success.
A pair of first year AJHL’ers joined the team from south of the boarder as Washington State natives Stevie Bryant and Colton Meekhof made their way to our side of the 49th parallel. Meekhof brought a heavy shot to the blueline and was a great power play weapon scoring seven of his 12 goals on the man-advantage. Bryant settled in nicely as the team’s third line centremen and was able to contribute 31 points.
The team overall took sometime to get into gear with new players and new coaches adjusting to one another and it would be in the month of October where the team took off and reverted back into it’s contending ways. From October 22nd until November 10th the team went undefeated setting a new franchise mark with a nine-game winning streak. That streak vaulted the Wolverines into a race for first place in the division that would last all season long between the Wolverines, Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Spruce Grove Saints. The race was so tight it came down to the final day of the AJHL’s regular season where a showdown at the Scott Safety Centre between the Wolverines and Oil Barons would decide first place. The Barons would prevail in that game, but it would the Wolverines who would get the last laugh once the post-season begun.
Prior to the playoffs, a historic day took place in not just Wolverine history, but league history. On February 3rd, the Wolverines defeated the Oil Barons in Fort McMurray by a score of 2-1 in overtime on a goal from Eric Krienke. The win was Wolverine head coach Gord Thibodeau’s 833rd of his career which surpassed Don Phelps for the most in league history doing it in the place that Thibodeau had coached for 11 years.
Despite not taking home the regular season divisional crown the Wolverines still found themselves in a good spot heading to the playoffs with their second consecutive second place finish. The team made quick work of their first-round opponent, the Grande Prairie Storm, dispatching them in a three-game sweep. In game two of the series Justin Young scored his second career playoff overtime goal.
The second-round matchup saw the Wolverines take on their bitter rival, the Spruce Grove Saints. The series was far and away the most entertaining of the 2017 AJHL playoffs as the teams came in separated by just one win during the regular season. After dropping game one the series at home, the Wolverines found themselves in overtime of game two looking to salvage a home-ice split and once again it would be Justin Young providing the OT heroics. The Wolverines then did the unthinkable taking both games three and four from the Saints at the Grant Fuhr Arena, a place that had once been a house of horrors for the Wolverines. The Saints did not quit and were able to rally from their 3-1 series deficit to setup a winner take all game seven back in Whitecourt. Despite seeing their series stranglehold get away, the Wolverines looked as confident as ever as they convincingly took game seven by a final score of 4-1 to punch their ticket back to the North Division Final for the first time since 2013.
Waiting for the Wolverines in the divisional final were the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. For a second straight series, the Wolverines dropped game one and for a second straight series, the team bounced back with a game two win. The Wolverines would actually go on to win four of the final five games of the series with all four wins coming fairly decisive including a series and division championship clinching game six win on home ice 6-3.
In the league final, the Wolverines ran into the countries number one ranked team, the Brooks Bandits. A valiant fight was put up by the Wolverines, but the fresh and rested Bandits were too much for the battle weary Wolverines as they were able to secure their second straight league title with a series win in four games.
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