(Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion. October 8, 2014)
By Kyle Jahns
Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers goaltender Evan Weninger knew he had big skates to fill heading into the 2014-15 SJHL regular season. So far Weninger thinks he’s done an adequate job between the pipes, but believes the best is yet to come.
Through three games Weninger logged 187 minutes of ice time, making 90 saves on 96 shots in the process. His goals against average of 1.93 is among the best of goaltenders who have played three or more games, and his 0.938 save percentage is near the top too.
Weninger is taking over as the sole goaltender of the Klippers after splitting time with last seasons’s starter in Tyrell King. Last year Weninger played 20 games to King’s 39, and both goaltenders had similar goals against averages and save percentages. King had a 2.16 GAA and 0.930 save percentage to Weninger’s 2.14 GAA and 0.937.
During the offseason general manager and head coach Rockie Zinger made a three-way trade with two British Columbia Hockey League teams to send King west in return for Joel Webb from the Trail Smoke Eaters.
“It feels pretty good,” Weninger said of being the starting goaltender. “I haven’t been used to playing a whole lot last year, and in my midget ‘AAA’ year I didn’t play much until playoffs…but it feels pretty good to be back there and having the team rely on me to be there when they need me and I know that they’ll be there when I need them.”
While Weninger itched to get a taste of more hockey last season – especially in the playoffs – he was aware King was the man in Kindersley and needed to patiently wait his turn.
“It was pretty tough [to get more playing time] because we had Tyrell King and he was a great goalie. Obviously I did want more playing time, but when your team is winning more than three quarters of the games pretty much, it’s tough to argue.”
Weninger not only battled the Battlefords North Stars in the first three games of the season, but also the flu. Through those games, he helped the team earn two wins and one shootout loss. In the Klippers 4-3 overtime victory on Sept. 20, Weninger stopped 31 of 34 shots and earned the third star of the game. On Oct. 6 Weninger kept the Klippers in a game where they were outplayed, and helped his team earn one point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the North Stars. The Klippers goaltender earned the first for star his efforts, making 29 of 30 saves.
“Coming back at home and losing that one in the shootout was pretty tough, but it was nice to get one point at least,” Weninger said. “They were surprising. They would shoot from everywhere, they’d pass from the corner out front, they were getting through. It was tough to read and react and I just had to play my game and get in the way of the puck for the most part.”
Weninger credits his defence, a group that gave away the second fewest goals last season, for a standout job that has helped his performance in the young season. While the group does look different, Weninger believes it’s filled with just as much depth and talent.
“[Brandon] Scheidl and [Conner] Veroba have been unbelievable for us. [Ty] Lindberg and [Tyler] Anderson have been good rookies. And of course [Shaun] MacPherson and [Shaw] Watkins are really good 20-year-olds there,” Weninger said.
The 18-year-old from Saskatoon has been getting a lot of praise from his coach and from the media. The SJHL website has claimed Weninger as a candidate for a goaltending position on the Canada West team and compete at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Kindersley this Dec. 14-20.
Weninger was hoping he would receive this praise heading into the season, but doesn’t think he’s earned it from everyone yet. Weninger believes he has a lot more to prove.
“I feel like people are still kind of questioning me. They haven’t really seen me do a whole lot. I’ve only played three games so far and I think people are thinking ‘Can this guy hold up? Is he going to last? Is he going to be able to carry his team?’ And I feel like I can and we have the team to do it,” Weninger said.
Klippers just gearing up for season
All that the members of the Kindersley Klippers could do in mid-May of this year was stare at the TV and wonder out loud ‘if they can do it, why can’t we?’
The Klippers watched their league-mates in the Yorkton Terriers win the RBC Cup, the national championship for junior ‘A’ hockey, in thrilling fashion.
Klippers forward Stefen Seel, in his third season with the Klippers, wondered the same thing with his teammates when they returned to Kindersley in August for camp. Yorkton defeated Kindersley in three of four regular season meetings last year, but no defeat came at more than a two goal difference. In the team’s win, the Klippers defeated Yorkton 4-3 in a shootout.
“A big thing was that we played Yorkton, and we saw how Yorkton won. We played with them all year. We beat them last year and we lost to them last year,” Seel said. “Now it’s kind of ingrained in our heads that we’re just as good as any team in the country if we play as good as we can.”
Through three games Seel has one goal and he expects not only his personal performance, but his team’s as well, will improve as the Klippers get a few more games under its belt. He believes it will naturally come once the Klippers play some more games.
As of Oct. 6, the Klippers have only played three regular season games, the fewest in the league. The Melville Millionaires, Humboldt Broncos, and Flin Flon Bombers have played the most so far with seven games.
“We haven’t gone on a road trip either and that will help with our team bonding,” Seel said.
The Klippers will get that first road trip out of their systems this weekend when the team travels to La Ronge, Melfort, and Nipawin this Oct. 10-12. Seel believes the more this team plays, the more they’ll live up to their potential as a group.
“We thought we were going to be going a lot longer [last season] and it ended abruptly. This year the goal is to be playing from the end of August until the end of April and into May,” Seel said.
Eleven Klippers players attended the SJHL Showcase in Warman on Sept. 29-30. The showcase included the top players from each SJHL team broken down into teams based on age. The teams played for scouts from Canada and the United States.
Seel, Weninger, Owen LaClare, Marc Dubeau, Ty Lindberg, Conner Veroba, Cody Young, Tyler Anderson, Carter Hill, Branden Scheidl, and Boedy Donald all attended camp. Seel, LaClare, and Dubeau each left the showcase with one goal.
“I thought I played pretty well. It’s kind of exciting hockey because you’re playing with random guys you’ve never played with before,” Seel said.
Weninger played two half games and felt he had a good showing in his second showcase. Weninger spoke with a few scouts from some Division I college hockey teams in the United States.
“It’s pretty cool to talk to them and know that they’re interested and they like you as a player,” Weninger said.