A conversation about the Estevan Bruins top performers this season has to include defenceman Aleksa Babic.
After playing in just 45 games last season, Babic has already reached that number this year with still a month to go in the regular season. And maybe the most surprising element to his game this year has been his offensive prowess. The Lakeshore, Ontario native has 35 points this year, compared to just 19 a year ago. He's been up near the top of the defencemen SJHL scoring list all season.
"I think it's just the opportunity that I've been given this year by (head coach) Jason Tatarnic and (assistant coach) Phil Fyfe," said Babic, fresh off an appearance at the SJHL-MJHL Showcase in Winnipeg. "Tarts and Phil put a lot of trust in me to just be a leader within the room and on the ice and just kind of do what I can and they've given me the confidence to do that."
"I wouldn't want to really say my game has changed too much. I think it's just the opportunity I was given. Obviously I'm a year older, I'm 20-years-old. Bit bigger, bit faster, bit stronger, I understand the league a little more. Bit I think just Phil and Tarts giving me the opportunity to play."
Babic, in his final Junior A season, has caught the attention of opposing coaches as well. La Ronge head coach Kevin Kaminski singled him out prior to a game in La Ronge between the Bruins and Ice Wolves earlier this season.
"We've got to make sure, with Babic, we've got to make sure we don't let him join the rush. Stay between him and the net. Make it hard on him. He's an offensive weapon," Kaminski said.
Babic, who is wearing an alternate captain's "A" on his jersey this year, says he has embraced the leadership role as one of the returning veterans on the team. He's often very vocal on the ice, giving instructions to his teammates prior to a faceoff, or calmly talking to officials during penalty explanations.
"I've had a lot of great leaders...I know how far it goes for the younger guys," he said. "It was a huge honour to be a part of the leadership group this year for the Estevan Bruins. I understand how much impact a leader can have."
Earlier in the season, Babic was one half of arguably the top defence pairing in the league, with teammate and good friend Alex Blanchard, who left Estevan for McGill University over the Christmas break.
"I think the thing for me most was losing him off the ice," said Babic, who lived with Blanchard during the first half of the year. "The way that we clicked so much off the ice made it so much easier on the ice. And I think just the guy he was off the ice I think goes a long way and in the room...those are the things we are going to miss the most."
"He's definitely a friend for life."
With just 11 games left, the standout defender knows what's at stake during the final month of the season as the Bruins try to nail down a playoff spot, starting this weekend with a pair of home games against Nipawin and Flin Flon.
"Very crucial for us. Obviously with 11 games left, we're in a playoff spot right now. You really want to win out, that's the best way to put it. But Nipawin's been a hot team, they're really good. Flin Flon as well...every team you play is so good that you can't really take a night off."
"We're excited to play and finish out the year, and look where we're at playoff wise."