Forward Carter Johnson of Gimli and goalie Hayden Dola of Winnipeg Beach have been two bright lights in an otherwise dim season for Interlake Lightning in the 12-team Manitoba Triple A Midget Hockey League.
Johnson, a 17 year-old Lightning veteran, is the team's second leading scorer with 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in 31 games to date. Dola, a 15 year-old rookie, is a workhorse goalie who has played more than 1,000 minutes so far this season.
The provincial league honoured Dola with both player of the week and player of the month awards in the six team east division in November while Johnson has been a nominee for player of the week.
The recognition was rewarding for two teenagers who hope to go as far as they can in hockey. Johnson started playing in the Gimli minor hockey system before advancing at 14 and 15 years-old to the Lightning city bantam and midget teams. Now in his second and last season of eligibility with the Interlake provincial midgets, the sometimes centre and mostly left winger has been protected by Swan Valley Stampeders of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL). He was invited to stay and play in Swan River this winter, but chose to wait until next year so he can complete his grade 12 at Gimli High School.
Dola took the ice at five years of age, made his debut with the Winnipeg Blazers Squirts and then played for Arborg minor teams because Gimli had too many goalies. He made the Lightning city bantams last winter and was so impressive that he was selected by Selkirk Steelers of the MJHL in the first round of the Manitoba bantam draft last summer.
"I always wanted to be a goalie," says Dola who is a fan of Mikka Kiprusoff of the NHL's Calgary Flames. "It's different and I like all the equipment."
The Gimli High grade 10 student, the son of Lightning manager Hayden Dola and his wife Colleen, has two more years of provincial midget eligibility. But he could progress sooner to high levels of hockey before using up all his eligibility.
"Hayden was the top goalie at the bantam level and we had no hesitation about picking him at number six in the first round of the draft," says current Steelers coach Ryan Smith. "He shows lots of promise and if he stays focused, he could keep going to Junior A hockey and beyond."
If bloodlines are any indication, Carter Johnson is also well positioned to climb the hockey ladder. The son of Brian and Pam Johnson grew up in a hockey atmosphere. His Gimli grandparents Bob and Judy Leiter had plenty of tales to tell from the days when Bob skated in the NHL for Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Atlanta Flames. His uncle Jeff Leiter played for the University of Manitoba Bisons and the pro Wichita Thunder while his father turned out for the Gimli Wolves seniors.
Carter Johnson wants to be a Pittsburgh Penguin like his grandpa, but his inspiration comes mostly from Sidney Crosby. "I got a signed picture with Sidney when the Canadian Juniors trained in Gimli before winning the world championship in Grand Forks in 2004-05," Carter says.
Hayden Dola envisions himself in the Edmonton Oilers net because he likes all their young stars such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakopov. When he is ready to join them, they should still be in mid-career.
Before turning pro, Johnson and Dola want to play junior and win college hockey scholarships so they will be well prepared for a second career. “I would like to study sports psychology," Johnson says.
While they have dreams for the future, they must first finish their Lightning season and the 12 games remaining on the schedule. Their team had a good start to the season, then slumped due to injuries and the loss of their coach due to a job transfer to Calgary. The Lightning had a record of six wins and 25 losses at the Christmas break, placing them fifth out of six teams in the league's east division.
They were also mired in a six game losing streak. But not everything is lost because all teams make the playoffs and Interlake can still play for a better seeding.
"We have to turn it on and win six of our last 12 games," Johnson says, a statement endorsed by Dola.
Manager Harvey Dola is confident his son and Johnson will put the pedal to the metal. "The boys love the game of hockey, try hard and have a great work ethic," says the manager,