AJHL Preview: Drumheller Dragons

Photo Source: Christina Ryan/Calgary Herold

2017/18 Record: 33-22-5 (3rd in the South Division)

Leading Scorer: Jordan Taupert – 74

Most Goals: Jordan Taupert – 30

Most Assists: Jordan Taupert – 44

Offseason Movement

In: Brendon Borbely (Kindersley Klippers)*, Robert Michetti (Kindersley Klippers), Aiden Yakimchuk (Sherwood Park Crusaders), Josh Brindza (Sherwood Park Crusaders).

Out: Clay Keeley (Kindersley Klippers), Nate Keeley (Kindersley Klippers), Dane Dow (Humboldt Broncos) Brendon Borbely (Kindersley Klippers), Tyson Scott (Sherwood Park Crusaders), Brett Wieschorster (Sherwood Park Crusaders), Andrew Kartusch (MacEwan University Griffins), Tyler Kreklewich (Regina Cougars).

2018 was a good year for the Drumheller Dragons, who finished third in the South Division – their highest regular season finish since 2014.

In Kevin Hasselberg’s first season as the team’s general manager and head coach, the Dragons pushed the Brooks Bandits to six games of a best of seven in the South Division Semi-Finals series, had three players invited to the Team Canada West World Junior A camp – Hunter Virostek (98), Jordan Taupert (98), and Markus Boguslavsky (99) – and had Taupert nominated for the league’s MVP award. Overall, it’s safe to say the Hasselberg era got off to a solid start.

Now, heading into year two, Drumheller is looking to replace a few key veterans including former Captain Andrew Kartusch (97) who is now with the MacEwan University Griffins in the ACAC. Kartusch – not usually known for his offensive abilities – had a fantastic year with the Dragons scoring 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 57 games. In previous years he had eight (2017) and six points (2016). While putting up career numbers, he was also one of the best shutdown defencemen in the AJHL. Brought in to replace Kartusch was Aiden Yakimchuk (00) from the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Yakimchuk – similarly to Kartusch – is best known as a defensive defenceman and has been really coming into his own this preseason. When the Dragons and Sherwood Park Crusaders – Yakimchuk’s former team – faced off earlier this preseason, the newest Dragon looked by far to be the best player on the ice. His performance that afternoon could’ve been what set the wheels in motion on that particular trade. He should be joined on the blueline by veteran defencemen Bradley Stonnell (98), and Troy Dudley (99).

Yakimchuk was not the only Crusader to head south with goaltender Josh Brindza (99) also being part of the deal. Brindza had a tough go in Sherwood Park. In his first game with the Crusaders, Brindza left the game in the third period with a knee injury which prevented him from suiting up for the rest of the season. Before he was hurt, the Edmonton native had a great game stopping 19 of the 21 shots he faced. Joining Brindza in the goaltending competition are veteran Hunter Virostek (98) and the also recently acquired Robert Michetti (00). Virostek had a good second season in the AJHL posting a 2.77 GAA which was much improved him his 4.00 GAA from the year before. It is extremely likely that he’ll be the team’s number one when the start of the season. As for Michetti, he was brought in from the Kindersley Klippers in exchange for Brendon Borbely (99). Michetti was with IHA Midget Prep of the CSSHL where he played 14 games and had a 5.08 GAA along with 0.874 SV%.

With the addition of Yakimchuk and Brindza, the Dragons bid farewell to two of their star forwards from last season in Tyson Scott (99) and Brett Wieschorster (01) (Vermont Catamounts) who went the other way in the Sherwood Park deal. While the loss of those two is a difficult one for them upfront, they still have the likes of Bogoslovsky, Taupert, and Brett Edwards (98) returning to their lineup. One name to watch out for is Alex Rotundo (98). Rotundo was brought in from the Crusaders as part of the Jesse Zaharichuk (97) deal at the start of last season but was unable to play a full season due to a shoulder injury. In only 25 games, the Edmonton native was one of two Dragons players – Jordan Taupert – to finish the year as a point-per-game player, wrapping up his campaign with 26. He maintained that scoring rate in the postseason too with 10 points in as many games. We should expect to see him have a tremendous season and push Taupert for the scoring title this season.

The South division, aside from the Brooks Bandits and Okotoks Oilers, is incredibly competitive. However, the players that the Dragons have on their roster should give them enough to slot right back into that third seed come playoff time. Hesselberg’s boys should make significant strides in 2019 with many players poised to take the next step in their development.