MJHL commissioner celebrates league at showcase event


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It’s been a long three years in the sporting world thanks to COVID-19, but Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) commissioner Kevin Saurette says 2023 has been a welcome change back to normalcy.

“I’m just sitting back and taking stock on what a normal year looks like,” Saurette, who named the league’s commissioner in 2020, said.

“Attendance-wise, especially in our rural markets they’re surpassing pre-COVID numbers, so there’s a lot of excitement in the MJHL. The fanbases are back.”

Part of the return was the MJHL/SJHL Showcase, held in Manitoba for the first time this year Jan. 31/Feb. 1. The event allows players from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to play in front of top-level scouts from the NCAA, major junior, USports and even professional teams.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Saurette said above the ice surface at the Seven Oaks Sportsplex.

“It’s been an amazing event for both leagues, and to be able to host it in Winnipeg, for our fans, in our communities and for our teams and players — it’s just a great event.”

He added the league’s momentum at graduating players to higher level hockey, specifically American colleges, has also rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels.

“(The MJHL) is a league of choice now,” Saurette said.

Events like the showcase could be a lot closer than even Winnipeg for Steinbach hockey fans, as sod was turned on the South East Events Centre Jan. 27. Saurette said he anticipates Steinbach could be a future host for the prairie junior A showcase.

“I know (Steinbach) wants to host national events, and with the new arena that’s being put in place, that’s going to be an option for them,” he said.

“Any support that the league can give them will be there. As soon as that building is open, they can apply for any event.”

A new addition to showcase events is players from the expansion Niverville Nighthawks, who had five players named to the initial rosters for the three MJHL teams. Not only have the Nighthawks succeeded on the ice, as they sit in a playoff spot entering the stretch run, but also off the ice, with fans packing into the Niverville Community Resource and Rec Centre to watch junior A hockey.

Saurette said he was never worried about Niverville’s place in the MJHL, saying the team has “set a standard,” across the league.

“Both on and off the ice they’ve done amazing work,” he said.

“I think they have surprised some people with how competitive they are on the ice. Off the ice they have an amazing board, an amazing ownership group. The community has been great, they’ve really bought into the Niverville Nighthawks.”

The MJHL entered the showcase event with tight races in both the east and west division. While Steinbach and Portage have traded top spot in the east back and forth, the west division has been unusually close. Three teams are tied with 51 points, with last place Neepawa only eight points behind the leaders.

“From a league standpoint, the parity has never been higher, that’s one of the strengths of the MJHL,” Saurette said.

“It’s a development league, and the more parity, the more opportunity for players to play in intense, competitive games every night, it’s only going to give them the better chance and the better tools to advance to higher levels.”

Saurette added it was “fitting” for the MJHL/SJHL showcase to be held right now, as the push for the playoffs begins in earnest. The final game of the regular season is set for March 19.

“After this event, it’s basically going to be playoff hockey until playoffs,” Saurette said.

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