By JAMES TUBB on December 29, 2023.
The South Alberta Hockey Academy has worked their way to early success at the Circle K Classic.
For the second year in a row the Dunmore-based hockey academy is 2-0 in their first two days of action at the 32-team invitational tournament in Calgary. SAHA beat the Chicago Mission 5-2 on Wednesday before holding on for a 3-2 win Thursday afternoon over the South Kent School.
Wednesday’s win was led by a hat trick from Medicine Hat Tigers draft pick Brayden Ryan-MacKay. Carter Cunningham added a goal and two assists and local product Josh Evaschesen had a goal and two assists. Marek Schlenker made 25 saves in the win.
SAHA’s win on Thursday came on the back of Schlenker, who turned aside 49 shots with his team outshot 49-19.
“He was nothing short of spectacular, that’s the way Marek has been all year,” head coach Brayden Desjardins said. “He gives us a chance every single game and obviously sometimes you need your goalies to just steal one when you don’t have your best game.
“But all in all, we battled hard, we did a lot of really good things. We did a good job clogging up the middle, sold out for a lot of shots late and got some big clears especially late in the game that really killed the game for them. That South Kent team is a good team, they came out and were ready to go, we were definitely fortunate that Merek was there to shut the door.”
Cunningham added a goal and two assists in Thursday’s win, Wyatt Yule had a goal and an assist and Evaschesen had a goal as well.
SAHA has had a lot of success from their goaltending in their Circle K Classic appearances. Medicine Hat Tigers net minder and SAHA alumni Zach Zahara won playoff MVP for his performance in their 2023 win, also recording the win in their 2022 title.
With how Schlenker is playing, Desjardins says the 17-year-old is putting his name on the map and brings confidence to the club.
“He’s done it all year for us, it’s not like anybody here is surprised,” Desjardins said. “He gives our defence the confidence they can take a few chances up the ice when you have a goalie you know is going to make some saves. We definitely don’t play shy when he’s in the net, you can tell the guys have total confidence in him and it’s just another level when you’re playing with that much confidence in front of somebody.
“He’s a kid who deserves a ton of credit, he’s come a long way in a very short period of time and it’s great to see his hard work being rewarded because he’s an unbelievably hard-working kid and he’s an unbelievable person. It’s really cool to see him get rewarded like this.”
SAHA finishes their round-robin play today against the Edmonton Oilers Jr. Blue who are 0-2 in their pool play. With first place in their pool clinched, Desjardins says they’ll focus on maintaining good habits and get ready for the medal rounds that start on Saturday.
He says they’ll lean on their returning players as they make the push for a third straight Circle K Classic championship.
“We have four returning guys who have been through this before and they understand the grind of this tournament,” Desjardins said. “It is going to be an interesting one (today), it’s maybe not as crucial as some of the other pools where it’s do or die, but at the same time, this is a game we can’t waste, they’re good team. We can’t go into the metal round with bad habits so we really have to make sure we take time to recover and make sure we’re prepared to go again.”