RDP Kings head coach Trevor Keeper knows what he’s looking for when he hits the recruiting trail.
“We’re obviously looking for the skill level, the ability to skate with speed but also a compete level … how hard a player works and wants to win. You look at how hard they battle and the mental side of the game.”
Nolan Doell checks every category.
The 21-year-old native of Martensville, Sask., stepped into his first season with the Kings and finished second in team scoring with 11 goals and 11 assists in 24 games.
“He competed right from the beginning and created his own confidence and as a result was almost a point a game,” said Keeper.
“I’ve been fortunate to find the back of the net once in a while,” Doell said with a smile. “My forte has always been to mix in physical play and put some points on the board.
“I’m happy with the way the season went, now it’s time to focus on winning a championship … the team’s goal is to win and that’s all that’s on my mind now.”
At six-foot and 185-pounds Doell plays a tough game along with the boards and isn’t afraid to be involved as the 38 minutes in penalties shows.
Like a lot of first-year players, Nolan started a bit slow but was at the top of his game the second semester with seven goals in nine games.
“I think all the guys were just finding their rhythm the first half,” he said. “The second half there was that chemistry between all the lines and things fell into place.”
The Kings won eight of their last 10 games to pull away and finish first six points up on the Augustana Vikings.
They receive a first-round bye and face the winner of the NAIT-Briercrest best-of-three series, which will be played in Caronport, Sask, this weekend.
Hockey was always Nolan’s game. He played three-years with the prestigious Beardy’s Blackhawks U18AAA program before jumping into the junior ranks. During his final two years with Beardy’s he also played five and four games respectively with the La Ronge Ice Dogs.
After graduating from the U18 ranks he signed with the Whitecourt Wolverines of the AJHL and played 16 games before moving back to La Ronge.
“It just didn’t work out and I was lucky to get back to Saskatchewan,” he said.
He played most of three seasons with La Ronge before being traded to Melfort to finish his final junior season.
That season showed his offensive skills with 33 goals and 27 assists in 56 games between the two SJHL teams.
Nolan had a chance to play in the WHL, although nothing serious he said.
“I talked with some teams but I wanted to play junior and get a scholarship,” he said.
During his junior career, he also talked with several schools in the States, but once again it wasn’t serious.
“I looked at it and felt the best fit for me was Red Deer,” he said. “I knew some guys who were coming here and knew Keeper had put together an excellent program and I wanted to come and contribute to that.
He has certainly done just that and is taking Education and will be on hand for at least three more years.
Nolan, who is one of 16 players on the RDP roster from the SJHL, likes what he’s seen from the ACAC.
“It’s a tough league … a competitive league and one where a lot of Saskatchewan guys come to.”
One player who won’t likely join Nolan with the Kings is his brother Holden, who is one of the top scorers with the Battleford North Stars, the top-ranked Junior A team in the country. Holden has committed to Ferris State.
“Proud of him,” said Nolan.
The fact the Kings finished first is a big plus, says Keeper.
“You want to set the table and eliminate as many roadblocks as you can,” he said. “Not having to play the quarter-finals is one of those roadblocks and not having to play a team with home-ice advantage is another. But now we have to make sure we do our job and keep moving forward as a group. In the playoffs you have to be really, really hungry and can’t get complacent. We need to win five more games and can’t be satisfied to lose one period never mind a game.”
One of the keys will be goaltender Arik Weersink, who finished the season with two straight shutouts.
“He had a heavy first semester with six courses and we had a good mid-season meeting and he came back mentally refreshed.”
Weersink finished second in the league with a 2.76 goals-against-average and had the best win percentage at .857 with a 12-2 record.
The Kings will be without one of their top offensive defencemen in Brennan Davis who suffered a knee injury early in the second half.
“We’re waiting on an MRI to see exactly what it is, but it’s unlikely he’ll be back,” said Keeper, who made sure this season he didn’t run into the same problem he faced in last year’s playoffs.
Last season a string of injuries to the defence forced him to use several forwards on the back end.
“This year we made sure we had eight solid defencemen so if we did suffer an injury we had someone else to step up.”
The Kings will open the best-of-three semifinal March 10 at the Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre. If they host Briercrest all three games will be at RDP.
Augustana will face the winner of the SAIT-Concordia quarter-final.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com