Saints beef up roster as AJHL prepares to resume season

Saints beef up roster as AJHL prepares to resume season


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It’s been a busy week for the Spruce Grove Saints

The local AJHL team bolstered its roster with several signings and acquisitions, in preparation for their return to play on March 12.

In the first of several moves over the past couple of weeks, the Saints signed forward Liam Watkins, to a letter of intent for the 2021-2022 season.

Watkins served as the captain of the Okotoks Oilers U18 AAA team in the Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL), formerly known as the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL). Liam will join his older brother Lucas Watkins, already a regular fixture on the Saints blueline.

“It’s not the first time that we’ve played together. We played together in midget a couple of years ago, so it’s not a whole lot different from that. It’s going to be nice to have someone I know when I’m coming to a new team,” said Watkins.

The 16-year-old forward led his team in scoring and was top 20 in AEHL scoring after posting five goals, two assists and two penalty minutes in five games played this season.


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The AJHL just announced a return to play plan earlier this week, with six games against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, between March 12 and April 4. Watkins said he looks forward to hitting the ice with his new team.

“I couldn’t be anymore happy to get back on the ice and practice in a team environment. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that,” he said. “I think this week we’re going to start practicing again, but we have to follow the back to play protocol with the weekly testing.”

Saints General Manager Rob Sklaruk said Watkins, at six feet and 181 pounds, will be a solid addition to the team.

“Liam is going to be an exciting player for the Saints. He was a highly sought-after prospect so we are thrilled about adding him to our organization,” said Sklaruk. “I say it with all of our incoming prospects, but Liam has a high hockey IQ. That is a foundational piece of our prospect identification process. Liam is a total package player and comes from a great family.”

In addition, the Saints acquired 19-year old forward McKay Hayes from the Milton Menace of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) for future considerations. Hayes, a native of Ancaster, Ontario joins the Saints after posting nine goals, 16 assists and 30 penalty minutes in 51 contests with the Menace in the 2019-2020 season.

The 6’3, 205 pound forward hopes to make a statement on the ice.

“My strengths on the ice would be my skating ability and my size, which should lead to generating some good offence. I also feel my experience in the OJHL was good for development and growth as a young player and helped me become more mature,” Hayes said.


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Saints General Manager Rob Sklaruk is excited to see Hayes in a Saints uniform. The youngster had been on the Saints radar for some time, and when the league approved the return to play, the organization quickly moved to acquire his rights.

“McKay has been a player of interest for us for a while now and once the return to play was announced, talks intensified with Milton and we were able to get a deal done. He is a player that checks a lot of boxes for us and we are really looking forward to seeing him develop within our emerging group.”

Acquisitions continued as the club signed two players who will be on loan for the remainder of the 2021 season. Forward Caiden Gault (Selkirk Steelers) and goaltender Thomas Couture (Steinbach Pistons), both of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), have found a new home in Spruce Grove for the remainder of this season due to the cancellation of the 2020-2021 MJHL season.

Gault, born in 2002, is a point producing forward who was named the MJHL’s rookie of the year in 2019-20 after he tallied 25 goals, 22 assists and 58 penalty minutes in 59 games played. The 5’10”, 165-pound native of Oakbank, Manitoba, started the 2020-21 season with the Aberdeen Wings of the North American Hockey league (NAHL), posting one goal and two assists accompanied with 14 penalty minutes in seven contests before heading north of boarder and now onto Spruce Grove.

Goaltender Thomas Couture, also born in 2002, is a Levis, Quebec native who played just four games for Steinbach before the league wide shut down. In those four games, Couture carried a 0.90 goals against average and a .961 save percentage with one shutout and a 2-0 record.


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In 2019-2020, Couture played for his hometown Midget AAA team, the Levis Chevaliers, where the 5’11” 161-pound puck stopper posted a 1.76 goals against average and .929 save percentage with a sparkling 22-5 record. Couture improved those numbers, going undefeated in six playoff contests with a .99 goals against average and .954 save percentage.

Two other late acquisitions to the Saints include Brett Pfoh in a three-team trade between the Powell River Kings of the B.C Junior Hockey league (BCHL) and the Carleton Place Canadians of the Central Canadian Hockey League (CCHL).

Pfoh, a 2002 born forward from Port Moody, B.C., spent the 2019-2020 season, his rookie campaign, split between the Prince George Spruce Kings and Powell River Kings. The 5’11”, 165-pound player notched six goals, three assists and 20 penalty minutes in 44 games split between the two BCHL clubs.

Finishing off their flurry of activity, the Saints signed 19-year-old forward Kye Whillans, formerly of the Drayton Valley Thunder. He has joined the Saints active roster.

Whillans hails from Grande Prairie and spent the 2019-2020 season as a member of the Thunder where he collected two goals, five assists and 32 penalty minutes in 41 AJHL contests. Whillans is 5’11”, 170 pounds and plays a hard-nosed style game.

The Saints return to AJHL action on the road, against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on March 12. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.


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