Centennial Cup: Sleeva has fit right in for Melfort Mustangs’ championship run

Clay Sleeva was a key acquisition by the Melfort Mustangs on their way to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League championship run. Sleeva and the Mustangs head into the semifinal playoff round undefeated at the 2024 Centennial Cup. PHOTO BY PHOTO BY BROAD LEAF MEDIA. /sas

Darren Zary

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

A couple of years back, Trevor Blevins circled the name ‘Clay Sleeva” on the Yorkton Terriers roster and added him to his wish list.

That wish came true earlier this season, prior to the deadline, when the Melfort Mustangs acquired the dynamic 5-foot-9, 175-pound forward for their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League roster.

It’s been full speed ahead ever since.

Blevins, the head coach and general manager of the Mustangs, calls it “one of my best trades ever — 100 per cent” along with the acquisition of veteran defenceman Chase Friedt-Mohr.

“I would think Friedt-Mohr would be right there, too, getting the (SJHL) playoff MVP — I think those are the two biggest deals for sure,” noted Blevins, whose Mustangs have placed first in their pool at the Centennial Cup national championship tournament to advance to the semifinal playoff round Saturday in Oakville, Ont.

“Looking back, we made deals for Kirk Bear and Carter Hansen when we won in 2016. There have been a few others through the years, but as far as having an impact on a championship team, those two guys  (Sleeva and Friedt-Mohr), 100 per cent.”

For his part, the play-making Sleeva racked up three goals and 17 assists for 20 points in 18 games during the SJHL playoffs. He’s added two assists in three games at the Centennial Cup.

The shifty and speedy Sleeva had 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points in 24 games during the regular season with the Mustangs after joining from the Terriers. He recorded 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points in 28 games with Yorkton to start the season.

“What a great kid,” praised Blevins. “Good farm kid from Canora. Just a great, great person.

“He’s a player that, when he was an 18-year-old, we got upset by the Yorkton Terriers — we were third (No. 3 seed) and they were sixth. When we were done that series, I made it a point to always try and acquire him because of his high energy, his work ethic, his compete level — just what he did. He played with a huge motor every shift.

“They didn’t have to trade them. They were still trying to get into a playoff spot. We needed to make it work for both teams and I think it did. They got a player now and a player for the future plus some other pieces. Clay had an opportunity to come in and be a difference-maker for us.”

Indeed, he has.

The Mustangs are at the Centennial Cup as SJHL champions and a real contender for a national championship.

“I never really thought I’d go to nationals, but we did it,” said Sleeva, whose team battled its share of adversity during the regular season and playoffs.

“I think we kind of had an advantage in the (SJHL) playoffs, almost, because all season — as soon as I got (to Melfort) — there were big players out with injuries and stuff. We had sickness; we had suspensions. Even with guys barely in the lineup, we sometimes had four or five guys playing first line and we ended up pulling out wins. It helps in the playoffs, that adversity we faced, a lot of overtime (games) too. I think we were in really, really good shape (to handle it). I think it helped us out to pull it out against Flin Flon.”

Sleeva said he had mixed feelings about leaving the Terriers, but things have certainly worked out.

“It was sad leaving Yorkton and stuff, but you know, Trevor gave me a big opportunity and he gave me a chance to play,” he said. “It turned out. Look where we are now. It’s been fun.”

And it’s not over.

A win by the Mustangs in their semifinal match Saturday and they can advance to the Centennial Cup national championship final, to be played Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. Sask. time) and televised nationally on TSN.