Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League


Photo courtesy of Daniel Despins Photography

(Article written by Jamie Neugebauer)

In the case of a small town like La Ronge, the love a young person can have for their nearby junior hockey team can be immense.

When Ice Wolves’ forward Jacob Cossette is asked about suiting up for the club, the emotion in his voice is obvious and palatable.

“(Playing for the Ice Wolves) was a dream of mine when I was a kid,” Cossette says.

“I watched tons of their games when I was young, we as a family went to almost every one. I can remember back when they (won back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011), and to play for them is so special. Basically, ever since I saw them play back then I wanted to be an Ice Wolf.”

A native of Air Ronge, a slightly smaller community part of a collection of locales that includes La Ronge, Cossette travelled far and wide in Saskatchewan to play higher levels of minor hockey. Stops included a North East Wolf Pack U15 club in Melfort, one that featured a number of current Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League stars, a Beardy’s Blackhawks U18AA club three hours south, and dominant U18AAA stints in Tisdale during the Covid-shortened 20-21 campaign, and in faraway Prince Albert where he led the league in scoring as a Minto with 77 points in only 43 games.

Despite an affiliated player appearance during that 21-22 SJHL season for the Ice Wolves, Cossette made the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Spruce Grove a year later, and impressed to the tune of 11 points in 22 games as a rookie on a veteran, powerful Saints club.

Yet as is often the case as a team loads up to make a deep playoff run, Cossette was caught up in the classic ‘numbers game’, and his general manager there felt there was only one perfect spot for Jacob to thrive.

“They got some guys back from the Western Hockey League,” says La Ronge head coach and general manager Kevin Kaminski, “and I know their GM Rob Sklaruk very well, so he called me and asked if we were still interested in Jacob. Obviously, I said ‘well, heck yeah!’, especially since we knew he was a great hockey player and also a great person as well. We got a deal done before the deadline and obviously he’s a big addition to our program here.”

Listed at 6-foot, and 195-pounds, Cossette plays the scoring power forward role to a ‘tee’. A man with a big shot, when he “hits, he hits hard, he puts their defencemen back on their heels,” according to Kaminski, and his intensity and passion to win is easy to sense at any visit to La Ronge’s Mel Hegland Uniplex.

The wildness and the beauty of the outdoors in the world in and around La Ronge perfectly parallel the hard-nosed-yet-skilful way Jacob plays.

His heavy, yet offensively productive style goes a long way in gaining him the admiration of the passionate Wolves’ supporters, and that he cares deeply about engaging with the community where he grew up, only furthers his clear status as a fan favourite.

“I think everyone within our locker room to the fans, to his family, I think everyone was very excited to have this acquisition go through (when we got him back from Spruce Grove),” Kaminski says.

“He’s a local celebrity and I really think he handles himself with the fans very, very well, you know, especially the young fans. I think a lot of the junior Ice Wolves look up to him as well, so, like I said, he means a lot to this community, not only when he wears the jersey, but what he does to promote our club, when he goes out to help the young kids, you know, just in everything he does, he’s a class act. That’s all I can say about Jacob.”

Cossette’s mother has been a kindergarten teacher in the area for over 20 years, and his dad is a firefighting pilot in the summer, and a propane truck driver in the winter, and while coming back to them to play junior was incredibly special to Jacob, he also found a man almost like family waiting for him when he arrived back home.

Fellow ‘Tri-Community’ resident and big two-way defenceman Parker Layton has played 115 SJHL games at the time of writing, all for their hometown team, and so to have a fellow local waiting for him when he returned from the suburbs of Edmonton, AB meant a lot to Jacob.

“We basically played hockey together every year growing up,” Jacob says, “and starting in peewee we travelled together and spent hours and hours in cars together.

“We kind of broke apart in U18, but it was so nice to get back together on the team with him, and for us to both be leaders on the team together is great. It’s just nice that we’re both going through the same thing, he knows exactly how I feel to wear this jersey. We both have this community that we want to be involved in and show that we grew up here, to show that we know how much it means for the Ice Wolves to get out there. We’re trying our best, so it’s great to have Parker to fall back on during the good and tough times.”

Not only was Cossette not alone in his experience as a hometown hero around last year’s trade deadline, he was also not alone as a talented Saskatchewan player looking for an elevated role back in his home province.

Mason Bueckert, of Saskatoon, had similarly impressed as an affiliate while dominating Saskatchewan U18 hockey as a scoring power forward in 2021-22, had similarly done well in the Alberta League, though with the Canmore Eagles, and similarly needed a fresh start that he was handed in La Ronge the middle of the 2022-23 campaign.

“He was here maybe a week before me,” remembers Cossette, “so he was already kind of settled in.

“We are both similar players in that we both love to bring our work ethic to practice as well as games, and it’s just nice that I was not the only guy coming in at that time. Our times in the (AJHL) benefitted both of us greatly, and made us both better, and it’s no surprise to me that Mason is having a great year.”

Jacob truly loves playing at the unique Mel Hegland Uniplex, though “one thing I could say is a couple, maybe 10 feet more on the roof would be nice,” he says with a laugh.

“Other than that, I think we got one of the best ice surfaces in the league. (The arena is) kind of small enough that when it gets crowded, the people fill the rink, and we got those metal stands still, so people are stopping their feet and it gets nice and loud, and I love it when that happens.”

Cossette states that playing NCAA Division I hockey in the years to come is his No. 1 goal, but would consider Division III if it meant he could continue to play the game he loves.

Through 13 games played at time of writing this season, Jacob has seven goals and 14 points, and though the Ice Wolves are looking up at the playoff picture early in the campaign, Coach Kaminski knows there is plenty of firepower on the club including and around Cossette to bring them back to where they want to be in the standings.

“Jacob is a big factor for us,” Kaminski says.

“He is one of our leaders here, and while he has to keep leading by example, he has a voice to give his opinion when he needs to. I find when Jacob has his feet moving, and he’s crashing and banging and, you know, creating turnovers, stealing pucks, and making plays and going to the net hard, like I said, that that’s our identity right there, and he can do it as well as anyone in the league.”