AJHL Preview: Calgary Mustangs

photo via calgarymustangs.ca

2017/18 Record: 24-29-7 (5th in the South Division)

Leading Scorer: Joseph Karpyshyn – 53

Most Goals: Daniel Rybarik – 28

Most Assists: Ryley Smith – 28

Offseason Movement

In: Reece Soukoroff (Okotoks Oilers), Louis Jamernik (Brooks Bandits)*, Ben Howard (Okotoks Oilers), Cole Basnett (Okotoks Oilers), Andres Bridgewater (Calgary Royals MAAA), Riley Bodnarchuk (Okotoks Oilers MAAA), Connor Brock (Calgary Flames MAAA).

Out: Ayden Roche-Setoguchi (Okotoks Oilers), Braden Paquette (South Shore Lumberjacks), Eric Olson (Brooks Bandits), Louis Jamernik (Okotoks Oilers), Yuri Chernichko (Marian University Sabres) Nathan Walker (Marian University Sabres), Salvatore Scalise (Marian University Sabres), Ryan Stoynich (Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Cardinals), Ryley Smith (Red Deer Kings)

All the progression that the Calgary Mustangs made last season, both on and off the ice, was remarkable. They had a dismal 2016/17 campaign winning only eight games and struggled to attract players/fans to their organization.

Tyler Drader was then named the Head Coach in December of 2016, and that’s when it all started to changed for the Mustangs. The team took huge leaps and managed a 37 point improvement from the year before. Calgary wrapped up their regular season with a 24-29-7 record (55 points) – their best point total since 2014. Their success resulted in Drader being nominated for the AJHL Coach of the Year award.

In the postseason, they were scheduled to face off against the fourth-seeded Camrose Kodiaks. The experienced Kodiaks took care of the Mustangs sweeping them 3-0 in the first round. Despite the disappointment of being eliminated, the Mustangs had the most improved season out of all the teams in the AJHL. It doesn’t matter what their record was, this organization took massive steps in the right direction and made their program attractable again.

Now, heading into the 2019 season, Drader and his staff have been busy making adjustments to their roster. Their biggest acquisition has to be 2000-born goaltender Ben Howard from the Okotoks Oilers. Howard (00) had a stellar rookie campaign with the South Division Champions finishing with a 2.33 GAA – first amongst rookies – a 0.911SV% – second amongst rookies – and had 22 wins in his 27 games. The addition of Howard gives the Mustangs plenty of goaltending options with Ashton Abel (99) – All-Rookie (South) team starter – and Joey May (98)- who was acquired from the Kodiaks early last season.

The blue line in Calgary lost a few key pieces in Salvatore Scalise (97) (Marian University Sabres), Nathan Walker (97) (Marian University Sabres), and Ayden Roche-Setoguchi  (99) (Okotoks Oilers). Tyler Lentz (98) and Joshua Kroon (00) are the only defensemen returning to the lineup in 2019. A new veteran addition to the back-end is former All-Rookie (South) team member Reece Soukoroff  (98) who came back to his hometown of Calgary as part of the Roche-Setoguchi (99) deal. Soukoroff played an essential role with the Oilers the past three seasons and has already been named an Assistant Captain for the Mustangs. Hopefully, he’ll find a way to get back to his offensive game back after a down year in 2018.

The offensive group for Drader is looking a lot similar to what he had last season. Their top four scorers – Joseph Karpyshyn (98) , Daniel Rybarik (99) , Chase Miller (98) , and Brady Barclay (98) – are all returning for another year of Mustangs hockey, Cole Basnett (00) is another player coming in from the Okotoks Oilers, and both Andres Bridgewater (01) and Connor Brock (01) are making the step to junior after having successful seasons with their Midget AAA teams. With all those familiar faces returning, and a right balance of new coming in, Calgary should be an exceptionally good offence this season. You’d expect the likes Rybarik, and, even down the pecking order, Jackson Salt (00) and Liam Freeborn (99) to take the next step to produce more. The big one to watch for is Karpyshyn. He was just shy of 30 goals and being a point-per-game player last season, and now with a more improved team around him, we shouldn’t be shocked to see him even hit the 70 point mark.

While the South may be strong at the top, with Okotoks and Brooks leading, the rest of the division-wide open to whoever wants the advantage of their opportunity. The Mustangs could finish as high as 3rd in 2019 which would be massive for their program. Head Coach Tyler Drader has done a great job at getting his roster to where it is today and deserves to be rewarded by his players with home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason. Mustangs fans should be excited about what’s to come.