by Phil Ambroziak

The Meadow Lake Junior ‘A’ Mustangs have ridden off into the sunset.
Both Mustangs general manager Glen Winkler and head coach Marty Ross confirmed Saturday’s (Jan. 25) game against the Hinton Timberwolves was the local squad’s last one ever.

“There were a number of factors that went into this decision, but the main one was simply the numbers,” Winkler explained. “We lost a number of players over the weekend – our second goalie pulled a hamstring, another player broke his finger, we had four suspensions and, finally, there were five no shows. When you’re only able to ice such a small number of players, that’s not junior hockey.”

Winkler went on to say the decision to fold the team was officially made in the final minute of the third period Saturday night.

“The owners had talked prior to this and discussed the situation, but – when we ended up losing so many players – that was it,” he added. “Again, there was a whole bunch of factors that led to this, but the numbers was the biggest factor of all. I am pleased so many young players had the chance to play some pretty good hockey. I hope the fans enjoyed the Mustangs while they were here, and I hope the players also enjoyed their time with the team. We put Meadow Lake on the map, but unfortunately just couldn’t sustain things. Again, it’s the numbers – including the financial ones. No matter which set of numbers you want to talk about, it just wasn’t working out.”

One set of numbers Winkler said did work out, however, was how many volunteers always stepped forward to help out with the team.

“The community really did help out, up to and including the team’s final game on Saturday,” he said.

That outing saw the Mustangs take to the ice at the Meadow Lake and District Arena with only one regular defenceman and only two lines. The home team was down 6-0 after the first period, while the score was 8-2 in favour of Hinton after 40 minutes. The game ended with the Timberwolves going over the Mustangs by a score of 8-4.

“I’m very proud of the young men for not quitting,” Ross noted via social media, adding this game also marked the final time he plans to coach hockey.

“I feel very bad for the kids who cared and wanted to better themselves,” he stated. With that said, thanks to all the fans and everybody who put numerous hours into the Mustangs. You guys are all the real MVPs for caring about these young men.”

This praise for the fans was echoed by Mustangs captain Shane Hounsell.

“It (team folding) sucks, obviously but it was a good experience and I made a lot of good friends,” Hounsell said. “I thank the fans for their support and the owners for all the time, effort and money they put into the team. It’s sad, especially for the little kids who looked up to us and who you would always see at the games wearing their Mustangs shirts. This sucks for them too.”

As for what he plans to do next, Hounsell is unsure. He said he and other former Mustangs cannot play Saskatchewan Hockey Association-sanctioned hockey because of their previous affiliation with the WSHL. He said, right now, the only option might be to play for other WSHL teams if that opportunity presents itself.

The Mustangs debuted at the start of the 2018-19 season as part of the WSHL’s Provincial division. Including Saturday’s game, Meadow Lake had a record of 8-20. Whether the demise of the Mustangs means the demise of junior hockey in Meadow Lake, though, remains to be seen.

“For the Meadow Lake Mustangs and this ownership group, and with this league (Western States Hockey League) it’s not going to happen,” Winkler said. “I don’t know what the future holds for junior hockey, but if another team is established here one day, I don’t think it’s going to happen very quickly. Meadow Lake seems to be off the beaten path to the point where our senior team (Broncos) have had difficulty finding a league to play in. With all the travel involved and without a strong commitment, it’s not going to be easy.”