Onward, upward for Royal Knights

River East MMJHL squad hopes to make playoffs for first time since 2014-15 season

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/01/2022 (320 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Nobody said it was going to be easy.
A little over halfway through the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League’s 2021-22 regular season, the River East Royal Knights are in fifth place with a 13-16-0 record ahead of a Jan. 14 game vs. the seventh place Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins.
After a number of years watching the playoffs from the outside, River East head coach Blake Bonni felt the team was ready to turn a page when the puck dropped on the 2020-21 season. But the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down at the end of October 2020.
This season, the Royal Knights’ 40th in the MMJHL, Bonni has been pleased to see the progress the Royal Knights have made.
“We are moving in the right direction in some areas of our game, and of course have some areas we want to improve on, as well,” Bonni said. “There’s buy-in from the players. They’re motivated to get better and want to continue to improve more each week, that’s been fun for us to see.”
Along with putting more Ws on the board, Bonni noted improvements in the Knights all-around game.
“We’re blocking more shots and guys are doing things that don’t always end up on the score sheet, but are imperative for any team success,” the coach said. “Our veteran players have been setting some good examples for our younger players, and our first year status players are playing critical roles, as well. That’s a good mix we want to keep building off.”
Fourth year centre and team captain Austin Thorarinson, the only 2000-born player on the team, agreed.
“We have a lot more younger guys, with a lot more speed, which has been very helpful,” Thorarinson, who lead the team at press time with 26 points, said. “Everyone works hard. Nobody gives up on plays anymore.”
The Royal Knights have also benefited from some standup play from starting goaltender Ashton Howarth. Now in his third season with the Knights, Howarth had a goals against average of 3.89 and a save percentage of .904 in his 18 starts at press time.
“I like how I’m playing,” Howarth said. “I’ve been pretty solid. The guys in front of me, I’ve played with them before with the Sharks, we have faith in each other.”
Howarth is pleased with the direction the team is taking.
“It’s been tough the last couple years, at the bottom,” he said. “But now we’re in a place we haven’t been in before.”
The Royal Knights are eager to make the playoffs this season, which would mark their first post-season birth since the 2014-15 season seven years ago.
“Lots of work still ahead, but with this group of players,” Bonni said. “It’s something they are looking forward to, it’s obvious the moment you reach the dressing room.”
“We just gotta keep working hard and we’ll get there and surprise some people,” Thorarinson said. 
“We gotta go game by game,” Howarth said. “If we start thinking ahead, we start to lose. We have to focus on every game, every shift. If we don’t, we won’t be going to the playoffs.”

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

A little over halfway through the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League’s 2021-22 regular season, the River East Royal Knights are in fifth place with a 13-16-0 record ahead of a Jan. 14 game vs. the seventh place Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins.

Supplied photo by Bruce Fedyck River East Royal Knights captain Austin Thorarinson leads the team, along with Aaron Neilson, with 26 points at press time.

After a number of years watching the playoffs from the outside, River East head coach Blake Bonni felt the team was ready to turn a page when the puck dropped on the 2020-21 season. But the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down at the end of October 2020.

This season, the Royal Knights’ 40th in the MMJHL, Bonni has been pleased to see the progress the Royal Knights have made.

“We are moving in the right direction in some areas of our game, and of course have some areas we want to improve on, as well,” Bonni said. “There’s buy-in from the players. They’re motivated to get better and want to continue to improve more each week, that’s been fun for us to see.”

Along with putting more Ws on the board, Bonni noted improvements in the Knights all-around game.

“We’re blocking more shots and guys are doing things that don’t always end up on the score sheet, but are imperative for any team success,” the coach said. “Our veteran players have been setting some good examples for our younger players, and our first year status players are playing critical roles, as well. That’s a good mix we want to keep building off.”

Fourth year centre and team captain Austin Thorarinson, the only 2000-born player on the team, agreed.

“We have a lot more younger guys, with a lot more speed, which has been very helpful,” Thorarinson, who lead the team at press time with 26 points, said. “Everyone works hard. Nobody gives up on plays anymore.”

The Royal Knights have also benefited from some standup play from starting goaltender Ashton Howarth. Now in his third season with the Knights, Howarth had a goals against average of 3.89 and a save percentage of .904 in his 18 starts at press time.

“I like how I’m playing,” Howarth said. “I’ve been pretty solid. The guys in front of me, I’ve played with them before with the Sharks, we have faith in each other.”

Howarth is pleased with the direction the team is taking.

“It’s been tough the last couple years, at the bottom,” he said. “But now we’re in a place we haven’t been in before.”

The Royal Knights are eager to make the playoffs this season, which would mark their first post-season birth since the 2014-15 season seven years ago.

“Lots of work still ahead, but with this group of players,” Bonni said. “It’s something they are looking forward to, it’s obvious the moment you reach the dressing room.”

“We just gotta keep working hard and we’ll get there and surprise some people,” Thorarinson said. 

“We gotta go game by game,” Howarth said. “If we start thinking ahead, we start to lose. We have to focus on every game, every shift. If we don’t, we won’t be going to the playoffs.”

Sheldon Birnie

Sheldon Birnie
Community Journalist

Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at sheldon.birnie@canstarnews.com Call him at 204-697-7112

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