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Kings clinch playoff spot, Hobbs named league MVP


For the second straight season, the Dauphin Kings have booked their spot in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs and they did it in fine fashion.
Austin Lamotte scored four goals and added an assist to lead the Kings to a 10-3 win over the visiting OCN Blizzard, Feb. 18, guaranteeing the team will vie for the Turnbull Trophy this spring.
It was the first of three straight wins for Dauphin.
On the heels of being named the winner of the Steve “Boomer” Hawrysh Award as league MVP, Grady Hobbs celebrated by netting back-to-back hat tricks.
The first came, Friday at Credit Union Place when the Kings beat the Portage Terriers, 7-4. Hobbs followed that up with a three-goal, two-assist performance in a 5-3 win over the Neepawa Natives, Saturday in Neepawa.
For Hobbs, who was also named to the league’s first all-star team, winning the award is a huge honour and he was quick to credit those around him for his success.
“There’s a lot of people I couldn’t have done it without. Doug (Hedley, Kings head coach and general manager), he’s put me in position to succeed all year. And then I played with great guys all year, which helps a lot,” he said.
“And having a good team like this definitely helps a lot. So a lot of this goes to them.”
Confidence has been a key to Hobbs’ success this season. He was lacking a bit of confidence, he said, then earlier in the year, he found a bit of a touch.
“And then I found my confidence again,” he said.
Since entering the MJHL as a 16-year-old, Hobbs has always been one of the hardest working players, rarely taking a shift off. He attributes that work ethic to the way he was raised.
“I grew up on a farm and from a young age, my mom and dad, they told me that if you want to succeed at something, you’ve got work your butt off,” he said.
The MVP award caps off an incredible season for the 19-year-old, who recently committed to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
With eight goals in three games last week, Hobbs cracked the 40-goal plateau and now leads the league with 41. And his 77 points is second only to Winnipeg’s Mikol Sartor, who has 87.
Hobbs’ previous career highs came last season when he tallied 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points.
Although he still has a year of junior eligibility left, Hobbs will heading to RIT next season.
“It sucks that this is my last year here, but I’m excited to go to Rochester. I’ve just got to thank all my teammates and everyone for the success I had this season. I owe it to a lot of people,” he said.
Friday’s win over Portage was a big one for the Kings. Hobbs felt it was a playoff game against a tough opponent.
“I thought all 20 guys showed up to play and we played a good game. So we’re going to have to keep playing like that the rest of the way forward and, hopefully, get on a roll heading into playoffs,” he said, adding it does not matter who the Kings play in the first round.
“Because you’re eventually going to have to beat everyone.”
Hedley had high praise for the four-year veteran.
“When you’re building a culture, he’s the kind of guy you look for. Always hard working in practice. Never takes a shift off. Goes hard. And just a great kid off ice, too. It’s definitely well deserved and I’m happy for him,” he said.
Hedley said Tuesday’s win against OCN was huge, getting the Kings into the playoffs.
“I thought our speed was great and we had some good finish,” he said.
The same could be said of Friday’s win over Portage. Hedley really liked the way the team played throughout the 60 minutes.
“Tonight we were firing. The feet were going. Pucks were getting through. We were chipping walls. Speed away from the puck. Going to the net and making some great plays,” he said.
“I thought our attack in the middle lane was great tonight and we made some good plays.”
As well as they played, Hedley would have liked the team to be better defensively.
In the first period, he said, the Kings were sitting back and the gap was not there in the neutral zone.
“They were hitting the blueline with speed and then all of a sudden we’re watching. We didn’t commit to separating guys from pucks at all. And we got beat on the wrong side of puck, we got beat back to the net a couple of times and it cost some goals, because guys didn’t stay D-side below pucks,” Hedley said.
“We got better, though, as the game went on.”
The Kings host the Natives tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Winnipeg Blues will provide the opposition in Dauphin’s final home game of the regular season, Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Dauphin brings the regular season to a close, Sunday in Virden, a game which could have playoff positioning on the line.
The Kings enter the week two points behind Waywayseecapo and Virden and all three teams have three games remaining.
The focus in the final three games will be to maintain the consistent effort they have had in recent games.
“Making sure that we’re tough on pucks. Making sure that we use our speed. Making sure we get pucks up ice. All the little things we’ve been reviewing since after Christmas,” Hedley said.
“Neutral zone speed is so important with every team we play. You have to control it. You have to have back pressure. You have to have guys standing up. You have to have guys sealing off the net. Just simple things.”
Kings court: Grady Hobbs was not the only player to be recognized by the league. Nakodan Greyeyes was a finalist for the Hockey Ability and Sportsmanship Award and was named to the league’s second all-star team. And goaltender Levi Mitchell was a finalist for Goaltender of the Year and was also named to the second all-star team, while forward Austin Lamotte was named to the rookie all-star team. Kelvin Cech of the Winkler Flyers won the Coach of the Year Award, while Winkler rearguard Drake Burgin won the Best Defenceman Award. Three players from the Steinbach Pistons won awards. Carter Loney was the Rookie of the Year, Matt Lenz won the Goaltender of the Year Award and Ty Naaykens won the Hockey Ability and Sportsmanship Award. Joining Hobbs on the first all-star team are Lenz, Burgin, defenceman Caelan McPhee of Portage and forwards Jayden McCarthy of Winkler and Mikol Sartor of Winnipeg. Also named to the second all-star team are defencemen Nick Doyle of Waywayseecappo and Jayden Wojciechowski of Virden and forwards Tanner Andrew of Virden and Loney. Selected to the rookie all-star team were goaltender Cooper Hatfield of Winnipeg, defencemen Austin Clyne of Portage and Trent Sambrook of Winkler and forwards Luke Beerman of Swan Valley, Braden Fischer of Winnipeg, Caiden Gault of Selkirk and Loney.

Doug Zywina