Trade helps surging Oil Caps

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The Virden Oil Capitals sit fourth in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League standings with a 23-12-0 record in the season’s first half, but head coach and general manager Troy Leslie is aiming for improvement.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/12/2015 (2526 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Virden Oil Capitals sit fourth in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League standings with a 23-12-0 record in the season’s first half, but head coach and general manager Troy Leslie is aiming for improvement.

“Leading into the Christmas break I thought we struggled with consistency a little bit,” he said. “What I’m looking for in January and into February is just some really solid 60-minute efforts.”

After a 6-2-0 start to the season, the Oil Capitals endured a rough stretch. On Nov. 18, Leslie sent forward Kyle Dudar and future considerations to the Dauphin Kings for a pair of 20-year-olds: Defenceman Kyle Bird and forward Drake Bodie.

Colin Corneau / Brandon Sun The Virden Oil Capitals' Mack Hardy ducks Swan Valley Stampeders' Colton Brausen during the Capitals' first ever Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoff game, Saturday night.

Virden is 11-4-0 since acquiring the overagers, and Leslie said the impact they have had has been huge.

“With Drake up front that gave us some scoring punch,” he said. “Kyle just gave us another 20-year-old on the backend to settle things down. He makes good plays moving pucks out of our zone.

“Those guys have allowed us to have some more depth.”

Bodie, who has 35 points (10 goals and 25 assists), has complimented the team’s leading scorer, Mack Hardy, who sits tied 10th in MJHL scoring with 38 points (21 goals and 17 assists), and 17-year-old forward Bennett Dalke, who is second in rookie scoring with 30 points (13 goals and 17 assists) very well.

However, starting goaltender Sean Kuehn has also been a big contributor for Virden.

The Flower Mound, Texas product is second in the league in minutes played (1,612), goals-against average (1.97), wins (19) and shutouts (three), and third with a .928 save percentage.

“Sean had a good year last year and he just continued on into this year. Our guys have played pretty well in front of him, and he bails out our guys lots,” Leslie said. “What he does is gives us a chance to win almost every night, which you need from your goaltender.”

But Leslie admits the success of the Oil Capitals’ power play has been key when the team is struggling to score five-on-five. They have the third-best power play (25.6 per cent) and penalty kill (84.56 per cent) in the league.

Virden hopes to ride continued special teams success to a higher position in the standings as the second half unfolds.

Here’s a look at Westman’s other teams:

Dauphin Kings

It was an eventful opening 33 games for the Kings, highlighted by a surprise change.

Marlin Murray surprisingly stepped down as head coach and general manager on Dec. 11. The franchise’s winningest coach had been behind the bench for nearly a decade before opting to spend more time with his family.

The Kings have gone 2-2-0 since Marc Berry took over both posts on an interim basis, and sit ninth in the standings with a 13-18-2 record.

If Dauphin is to climb the standings, Berry will need to get more scoring out of his team — they have produced just 99 goals. Only Kirklan Lycar (14) and Chance Thomas (11) have double digit goals, and only Dauphin native Matthew Greening (18), who is also a rookie, Romano Morrison (17), Lycar (13) and Tyler Garrioch (11) have double-digit assist totals.

The Kings resume their season when they visit the OCN Blizzard (14-22-2), who along with the Selkirk Steelers (14-18-2) are only two points ahead of them in the standings, on Sunday.

Waywayseecappo Wolverines

Despite sitting with a 10-20-4 record at the Christmas break, the Wolverines have showed signs of improvement during the second quarter of their season.

Winless in their first four games, the Wolverines wound up starting the season 3-11-2, but they have netted points in nine of their final 18 contests, including seven wins.

Johl Swedlo has 13 goals and 26 points, both of which lead the Wolverines. However, the biggest surprise for the team this season might be the play of Ty Enns of Cartwright.

The 17-year-old rookie forward is second on the team with 12 goals — six of which have come on the power play — and tied third on the team with 22 points. Fellow rookie Riley Shamray of Shoal Lake leads the team’s blue-liners with 14 points.

Three MJHL teams have allowed more goals than the Wolverines’ 137, but with just 90 goals for, their minus-47 goal differential is second from the bottom. It’s a big reason why they find themselves 10th in the standings, but still in the final playoff position.

The Wolverines will look for a fourth straight victory when they visit Virden at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

Neepawa Natives

The Natives won only 15 of 60 regular season games a season ago, finishing with a league-low 33 points. With a 7-28-0 record just over the halfway mark of the season, they will be hard pressed to improve upon that.

Neepawa, which sits 10 points back of the Wolverines for the final playoff spot, is currently mired in its second five-game skid of the season but at one point lost 12 straight games, including 14-0 to the Winkler Flyers and 12-3 to Virden.

Although the offence — led by Neepawa’s own Kyle McDonald’s 12 goals and 21 points — has struggled mightily to score, tallying a mere 71 goals, the goaltending tandem of Jeremy Link and Troy Pierce sport the two worst goals-against averages in the league at 5.24 and 5.28, respectively.

Even with the playoffs expanding from eight to 10 teams this season, the Natives will need a magical final 25 games just to enter the conversation. This includes stringing together wins, which they’ve only managed to do once so far.

The Natives return to the ice Wednesday when they visit the Wolverines.

» nliewicki@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @liewicks

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