Program sales for the Prince Albert Mintos’ season opener on Saturday are expected to be quite brisk.
Finalists in each of the last three Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League seasons, the Mintos begin their run for a fourth appearance with a brand new line-up when they take on the Moose Jaw Generals at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre.
There are just eight returning players from last year’s team with three of those missing most of training camp due to injury and it is unclear if Ryan Duret, Kody White or Zach Paziuk will be ready for the game.
Loch Morrison has only been back with the team for just over a week after sticking around the Western Hockey League camp of the Calgary Hitmen for an extended period and Braxx George, who was summoned to the team halfway through the season last year as a replacement player, dressed for three of the six pre-season games.
Keegan Kjargaard and Teal Sobkowicz led the Mintos in scoring with four points each during the exhibition schedule and Lane Michasiw solidified his position as the No. 1 goaltender in camp.
After that, it is a fresh start for the Mintos.
As many as 27 other players saw some pre-season action with the team leaving the coaching staff with some tough decisions to make.
Paramount for the club is to find players to pick up the offensive slack left by the departure of the entire top line. Jason Duret graduated and is now playing with the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League while Joel Blaquiere has also exhausted his midget eligibility. Lance Yaremchuk, the team’s leading goal scorer last year, is still with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League and could still be returned to the Mintos, but that seems less likely with each passing day.
Also gone are Cody Young to the SJHL’s Kindersley Klippers and Eric Young to the Melfort Mustangs of the SJHL. A trio of players also headed out to British Columbia as Kylar Hope, Adam Osczevski and Tanner Burgardt are all with the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCJHL.
Bryton Sayers, another key part of last year’s team as he was named the top defenseman in the league, is with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL and the likelihood of him returning for a final year of midget hockey is almost zero.
That leaves the Mintos with plenty of holes to fill and with the aforementioned injuries even more new faces will be with the team for the foreseeable future.
Connor Ingram has secured the back-up goaltending spot behind Michasiw and it appears that Braden Lozinski and Rhys Kipling along with Matthew Parsons and Brody Reimer are the frontrunners to join Morrison and George on the blueline.
The forwards units could have any combination of seven to 10 new players on Saturday with veterans returning from injury determining the final number.
With the Mintos hosting the Telus Cup western regional tournament in April and Moose Jaw the host city for the Telus Cup national championship, these two teams could see a lot of each other this year.
By the time the playoffs roll around, however, the Mintos will have a lot of questions answered and it all starts on Saturday.