When the 2020-21 Saskatchewan Male Under-18 AAA Hockey League season came to a halt in November, Prince Albert Mintos forward Curren Wintonyk-Pilot was left wondering what was next for his hockey career.
After a couple of anxious months, the 17-year-old from Saskatoon now knows what awaits him as he recently signed a letter of intent to join the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s La Ronge Ice Wolves next season.
“It was obviously a little bit scary once the season stopped (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and I think a lot of guys felt the same way as we didn’t know what the future had in store for us,” Wintonyk-Pilot said.
“There have been a lot of people that have put forward a lot of time and effort to help me reach my dream, such as my family, my coaches and my teammates. I’m really glad that I was able to pay all of that off and be able to keep playing hockey.”
After being picked in the fifth round pick of the 2018 SJHL Bantam Draft, Wintonyk-Pilot and the Ice Wolves kept in contact with each other during the last few seasons.
“Our first discussions after I was drafted by them was about going to their training camps and about where I was going to be playing for the upcoming season,” Wintonyk-Pilot said. “As soon as I joined the Mintos this year, our talks started to increase and I didn’t hesitate once they made an offer to sign a letter of intent.
“When I looked at all of the options in front of me, La Ronge was the best fit.”
Before the 2019-20 SJHL campaign was shuttered, the Ice Wolves were enjoying their best season since winning back-to-back league titles in 2010 and 2011.
They posted a 33-19-6 record to earn the fifth overall seed for the playoffs and were tied at two in their quarter-final series with the Yorkton Terriers when the season came to a halt.
The Ice Wolves started this year with a 4-1 record to lead the Sherwood Division when provincial regulations shut down the SJHL in late November.
“They have a great program up there and they make sure that everyone is involved with the team,” Wintonyk-Pilot said. “It’s like a brotherhood there.
“(General manager and head coach Kevin) Kaminski is great and (associate coach) Gaelan Patterson is amazing as well. I know some of the guys that are on the team and they’ve had nothing but good things to say about it.”
Following a 38-point campaign in 2018-19 with the Saskatoon Riverkings, Wintonyk-Pilot made the jump to the then-named Midget AAA ranks, where he had 11 points in 44 games for the Battlefords Stars.
He moved to the Mintos and had posted three assists in five games before the season came to a halt.
“When I came to Prince Albert from Battlefords, I really didn’t know what to expect and where I would fit in on the team,” Wintonyk-Pilot said. “Coming out of this season, I have nothing but great things to say about Prince Albert. It’s an amazing city with awesome billets and the program here is one of a kind.
“It breaks my heart that I wasn’t able to play a full season in Prince Albert, but I would highly recommend the Mintos program to anyone who is looking to play at this level.”
As he prepares to make the full-time jump to Junior A hockey next season, Wintonyk-Pilot is looking to build on the improvements he’s made to his game over the last two years at the Under-18 level.
“There were a lot of holes in my game when I moved up to Midget AAA but I’ve improved quite a lot, especially with my speed and my physicality,” Wintonyk-Pilot said. “I was able to find a new level of speed with help from my coaches and linemates, plus some early morning and late night skating sessions, and I wasn’t afraid of taking hits and giving them out.
“I think the biggest thing I want to improve as I get ready to play in the SJHL is my mental toughness, as that’s a huge part of playing junior hockey. I also want to work on my puck control, as I found with the Mintos that I was able to create more plays and have more opportunities when I utilized that part of my game.”