September 15, 2019

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The Skills to soar

The Free Press takes a look at the top half-dozen pro and college prospects playing in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2018 (270 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For years, Reilly Funk has been playing catch-up.

It all started during his first year of bantam hockey. Small for his age, the 13-year-old from Portage la Prairie was a diminutive five-foot-five when something mind-blowing occurred in the span of a few months — he was suddenly eight inches taller with all the awkwardness you might expect from such a rapid growth spurt.

“It was weird,” says Funk, who will turn 18 next week. “It affected my stride and my skating and I had to work to get that back. I’ve been working on that for years now and I’ve come a long way.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2018 (270 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For years, Reilly Funk has been playing catch-up.

It all started during his first year of bantam hockey. Small for his age, the 13-year-old from Portage la Prairie was a diminutive five-foot-five when something mind-blowing occurred in the span of a few months — he was suddenly eight inches taller with all the awkwardness you might expect from such a rapid growth spurt.

THE SUPER SIX

Matt Radomsky (G), Steinbach Pistons (above)

Age: 19

WHL rights: not protected

College commitment: none

Matt Radomsky (G), Steinbach Pistons (above)

Age: 19

WHL rights: not protected

College commitment: none

 

Owen Murray (D), Portage Terriers

Age: 16

WHL rights: Kootenay Ice

College commitment: none

 

Kyle Bettens (RW), Steinbach Pistons

Age: 17

WHL rights: Brandon Wheat Kings

College commitment: Bemidji State

 

Eric Fawkes (LW), Winkler Flyers (below)

Age: 17

WHL rights: Kootenay Ice

College commitment: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

 

Reilly Funk (C), Portage Terriers

Age: 17

WHL rights: Brandon Wheat Kings

College commitment: none

 

Matt Osadick (C), Swan Valley Stampeders

Age: 18

WHL rights: Brandon Wheat Kings

College commitment: Maine

"It was weird," says Funk, who will turn 18 next week. "It affected my stride and my skating and I had to work to get that back. I’ve been working on that for years now and I’ve come a long way."

Now, another two inches taller at 6-3 and tipping the scales at 190 pounds, Funk has developed into a key member of the hometown Terriers and one of the league’s finest all-around players.

Here, with the benefit of some informal polling of scouts and coaches, are snapshots of the top six pro and college prospects skating for MJHL teams:

 

<p>Portage Terriers centre Reilly Funk</p></p>

HEATHER JORDAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Portage Terriers centre Reilly Funk

Reilly Funk (C), Portage Terriers

Funk, a member of Team Canada West at the recent World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta., was thrilled to play at the international level and on a squad where most of his teammates already had scholarship commitments from NCAA schools.

"It was one of the coolest experiences of my life," says Funk, who did not register a point in six games while filling a third- and fourth-line winger role. "I mean, just getting the invite to the Team Canada West camp was such an honour and I was going in with an open mind, thinking it was going to be really hard to make the team but if I worked hard, I could do that."

Funk admits his late birthday and slower development track have impacted the interest of college scouts — until now at least. He has 13 goals and 33 points in 26 games so far this season.

"My stride and my skating is still something I want to work on. It’s not the best out there, for sure," he says. "When that gets better, I get better — that’s for sure."

The Brandon Wheat Kings, who own his WHL rights, tried to sign Funk in the fall but he chose to return to Portage, where he centres the top line and will be a key piece of the team that hosts the RBC Cup in spring 2020.

"He has a high ceiling because he hasn’t, in my opinion, really grown into himself yet as a player," says Terriers head coach Blake Spiller. "I think he’s got some polish that still needs to happen. And he’s got to physically get stronger for his height. But he’s got good skill and good character."

 

<p>Steinbach Pistons goaltender Matt Radomsky</p></p>

LUCAS PAPPEL / STEINBACH PISTONS

Steinbach Pistons goaltender Matt Radomsky

Matt Radomsky (G), Steinbach Pistons

Sometimes, hard work and talent aren’t everything. Sometimes you need a break, just like the opportunity that presented itself to Radomsky at the recent World Junior A Hockey Challenge, to properly showcase your ability.

The 6-2, 185-pounder beat out two other challengers at a selection camp earlier this month and earned a spot on Team Canada West’s roster. He posted a 1.64 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage in four appearances at the tournament.

"It’s was an unbelievable experience — it still feels kinda surreal," says Radomsky, who started three games, including a 46-save performance in a Team Canada West’s 3-1 victory over the Czechs in Sunday’s third-place game.

A lot has changed since last season for the 19-year-old Winnipegger, who served as the backup to Vancouver Canucks draftee Matt Thiessen during Steinbach’s run to an MJHL title in 2017-18.

Thiessen’s subsequent departure to the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints left the door open for Radomsky, but he wasn’t content to rely on his reputation.

In 23 games, Radomsky has gone 15-8-0 with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage to cement his reputation as the league’s top puckstopper.

"I had some pretty big goals, being the No. 1 and playing a lot of games here and trying to get invited to the Team Canada West tryouts," said Radomsky. "Everything has gone well so far."

His outlook for a college scholarship has also improved.

"I came into contact with a few (scouts) and I actually received an offer when I was there, so that was really good," says Radomsky, who prefers to keep the potential destination secret for now. "We’re definitely considering it."

 

Kyle Bettens (RW), Steinbach Pistons

Bettens tore up the Manitoba AAA Midget League last season, piling up a league-leading 95 points, including 40 goals in 48 games with the Winnipeg Wild, and it seemed like the sky was the limit this year.

<p>Steinbach Pistons' Kyle Bettens.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Steinbach Pistons' Kyle Bettens.

Opting to join the USHL’s Fargo Force, the 6-3, 200-pounder lanquished on the club’s fourth line for two months and went pointless in eight games before he made a mid-season decision to move closer to home.

"I got to Fargo and wanted to develop into a really good player because there’s a lot at stake here this season," says Bettens, 17. "It was good organization and I love everyone there but I just felt it wasn’t the best option for me."

In Steinbach, head coach Paul Dyck quickly included Bettens, who had been an affiliated player with the Pistons during their championship run last spring. Midway through his second year of midget, Bettens made a verbal commitment to attend Bemidji State University, where he was heavily recruited by Beavers assistant coach Ed Olcyck Jr., the son of former Jet Ed Olcyck.

"Kyle has a ton of upside we feel," says Dyck. "He’s been adjusting to junior hockey after a dominant year at the AAA (midget) level but the game at this level is bigger, stronger, faster — kind of that old cliché.... But he has a chance to be a pro, no question about it."

Bettens’ belief in himself hasn’t wavered. As the youngest player in the Pistons’ lineup, he’s found a nice chemistry with Easton Bennett and Jack Kilroy on the club’s third line while also earning time on the power play. He had two goals and 10 points in 15 games heading into Tuesday’s action.

"My main goal this year is I’d like to win a championship with Steinbach," says Bettens. "To me, going back-to-back would be pretty awesome."

 

<p>Winkler’s Eric Fawkes.</p></p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winkler’s Eric Fawkes.

Eric Fawkes (LW), Winkler Flyers

Fawkes, a 6-3, 200-pounder, has been a dominant offensive player at every level in his development, which made a slow start as an MJHL newcomer come as a bit of a surprise.

"The start of the season was a pretty big adjustment and now that we’re halfway through, we’re just starting to see him round into form and use all the tools that he has," says Flyers head coach Steve Mullin. "That would probably be the knock against him at the start of the year, where maybe he played like he got away with things due to his size and he’s not able to get away with that at this level."

The 17-year-old Winnipegger has modest numbers so far — three goals and 12 points in 32 games — but many observers believe he has a higher upside when you consider he had 37 goals and 74 points in 47 games for the Winnipeg AAA Midget Wild in 2017-18.

Fawkes, who also excels in the classroom, quickly attracted the attention of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute near Albany, N.Y., and he recently made a verbal commitment to attend the NCAA Division I program.

"At the beginning of the year with school — going to a different high school — and getting used to the bigger, more disciplined players (wasn’t easy)," says Fawkes, who plays on a line with fellow 17-year-old rookie Colton Friesen. "Everyone’s just bigger and more physical.

"I still play the same game I played in midget but it’s just adjusting. I’m definitely a pass-first guy."

Mullin remains convinced Fawkes has star potential.

"There’s a ton of talent," says Mullin. "He obviously succeeded at every level to this point and there’s no doubt he’s going to reach his full potential here, as far as that goes. What attracts them is his size, but once you start watching him skate and go into a corner and compete for pucks, those are the tools that help you succeed at all levels of hockey."

 

Matthew Osadick (C), Swan Valley Stampeders

One of three MJHLers to play for Team Canada West, Osadick went to training camp with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders before returning to Manitoba to play a role on the league’s most explosive forward line.

<p>Swan Valley Stampeders Matt Osadick</p></p>

SUPPLIED

Swan Valley Stampeders Matt Osadick

Osadick, a speedy 5-11, 170-pounder from Grand Pointe, has combined with wingers Josh Tripp, who hails from Swan River, and Landmark’s Brad Goethals, to form the MJHL’s highest-scoring line despite the 18-year-old centre’s two-week absence from the Stampeders’ lineup.

In 27 games, Osadick has 18 goals and 42 points in 27 games, which is one point better than his total for the entire 2017-18 campaign, in which he was named a finalist for the MJHL’s rookie of the year award while also being named to the league’s all-rookie squad.

Heading into Tuesday’s action, Tripp, Goethals and Osadick were first, second and fourth, respectively, in league scoring.

"He’s a young kid that wants to get better," says Stampeders GM and head coach Barry Wolff. "He’s got high-end skill and good vision and just creates offence. His ability to make plays in tight situations is something that a lot of young guys can’t do. He’s got that talent.

"The best thing about him is he wants to get better and he wants to learn."

 

<p>The Portage Terriers’ Owen Murray.</p></p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Portage Terriers’ Owen Murray.

Owen Murray (D), Portage Terriers

The MJHL, a league dominated by 19- and 20-year-olds, can be an unforgiving place for a young player trying to learn the ropes but Murray, who plays on the Terriers’ first blue-line pairing with 19-year-old Caelan McPhee, is quickly making a name for himself.

"It was challenging at first but I’ve adapted to the pace already and I know it was a good decision to play in this league against bigger guys," says Murray, a product of Decker — near Hamiota — who turned 16 earlier this month. "We’re both pretty aggressive in the offensive zone and still really responsible in the D-zone, I think."

Murray, a converted forward, blossomed while playing at Winnipeg’s Rink Hockey Academy last season. While still only 5-8 1/2 and 160 pounds, Murray has six goals and 26 points in 30 games for the first-place Terriers while earning favourable reviews from the club’s demanding head coach, Blake Spiller.

"We’ve had 16-year-olds in the past — good ones," says Spiller. "Brendan Harms, Kajon McKay, Rene Hunter, Brendan Walker and Joey Moffatt played as a 16 last year. You don’t have them come in and not play regularly. They definitely have to have the ability and maturity to play."

Although his WHL playing rights belong to the Kootenay Ice — rumoured to be moving to south Winnipeg — Murray has his eye on an NCAA opportunity, too.

"Right now I’m leaning a bit more to college," says Murray. "I’ve gotten a little bit of interest there so I guess we’ll see where that goes the next couple of years."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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