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This article was published 11/12/2018 (365 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For as long as he can remember, Josh Tripp has been a fan of his hometown team.
The Tripp family has been season-ticket holders since the Swan Valley Stampeders’ inaugural campaign in 1999-2000 and now Josh, a 20-year-old left-winger, is relishing his part in the best start in franchise history.
How the Stamps finish the 2018-19 Manitoba Junior Hockey League season will depend heavily on the success of Tripp, 18-year-old centre Matthew Osadick and 20-year-old right-winger Brad Goethals, who currently sit first, second and fourth, respectively, in the league scoring race.
"Obviously, I want to put up points, but more than anything I want to have a championship team in Swan (River), my hometown," said Tripp, a 5-8, 165-pound buzzsaw who scored his 22nd goal and 51st point of the season in Swan Valley’s 4-3 victory over the Portage Terriers on Tuesday afternoon at the MJHL Showcase, which is being played at the Seven Oaks Arena in Winnipeg.
Swan Valley, which improved to 22-6-2-2 with the win, pulled into a tie with first-place Portage atop the standings with 48 points each, although the Terriers have one game in hand.
"I think it would be awesome to win this at home," Tripp said. "We’re in second place right now, so it’s on track."
Success in Swan Valley has been fleeting through the years.
In fact, the Stampeders have never finished higher than fourth in the regular season and have won only two playoff rounds in 19 seasons. That hint of post-season success, coming in 2003-04 and 2009-10, ended with exits from the semifinal round.
In 2017-18, the Stamps were 28-25-7 and finished eighth, showing promise under new head coach and general manager Taurean White. His sudden departure midway through training camp this fall was unsettling, but incoming GM and head coach Barry Wolff quickly took command three games into the regular season.
Tripp, Osadick (18 goals, 42 points in 27 games) and Goethals (19 goals, 38 points in 23 games) have been terrific while Merek Pipes (could there be a better name for a goalie?) and blue-liners Quintin Sudom, Dane Hirst and Troy Quinn have been rock solid. Injuries to Hirst and Quinn contributed to a recent four-game losing streak.
"I knew coming in how good they were doing with a new coach and stuff," said Goethals, who started the season with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades before joining the Stamps eight games into the regular season when his MJHL rights were traded from the Winnipeg Blues to the Selkirk Steelers and then to Swan Valley. "Barry’s been awesome to us. Everything’s working out well."
Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Sudom has been an offensive force. His 11 goals and 41 points in 33 games leads all MJHL defencemen and puts him third among all skaters.
"I think you have to learn to win," said Wolff, a veteran coach with previous experience in the BCHL and with the OCN Blizzard of the MJHL. "But these guys changed that culture early and we won some games in a row, with success and kinda convincingly. With that slump we went through, it was some adversity we hadn’t faced. We were banged up, we had some injuries. We had played six in eight nights and then we went on the road for three. We lost all three of those."
Originally, Wolff worried about his top line with Osadick currently suiting up for Team West at the World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta., but 19-year-old centre Brian Harris has filled the void seamlessly.
"Tripp is the kind of guy it seems who can play with anybody," Wolff said. "Goethals is a little more finnicky and (Harris) makes everybody around him better, so they all bring their own strengths and just melded together.
"We weren’t sure with Osadick leaving what we were going to do. We were in a bit of a slump there with some injuries and we just thought we better put this group together to get some goals and offence."
And when Osadick returns?
"He might be a healthy scratch," Wolff joked before getting serious. "We’ll have to see. I think, if these guys keep working well together, we’ll keep them together. We’ll put Osadick with somebody else to strengthen another line and go from there."
Osadick rejoined the Stamps in fall after a tryout with Cedar Rapids of the United States Hockey League. Tripp, who spent parts of two seasons with Corpus Christi of the North American Hockey League, had a brief stint with Jamestown, N.Y., of the NAHL before coming home.
"They’re a veteran team. I thought they really turned the corner last year when Taurean White was there," Terriers head coach Blake Spiller said. "I thought they really brought in some veteran guys who were highly skilled. They’ve added some pieces this year with Goethals, they had Tripp, they had Osadick and then brought in Sudom and Hirst, as well as some young guys.
"They’ll be tougher as the year goes on."
Wolff also wouldn’t mind beefing up his roster prior to the Jan. 10 trade deadline.
"We like our team right now, but if we can improve it, we will," he said.
"In a perfect world, we add another offensive guy and a quality defenceman."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Wednesday, December 12, 2018 at 7:49 AM CST: Updated
1:53 PM: Typo fixed.