This kind of tournament hockey is about as unpredictable as it gets, and that’s what might make it so intriguing.
The Western Canada Cup faces off on Saturday (April 27) at Frank Crane Arena.
The host Nanaimo Clippers will be joined in the tourney by the Surrey Eagles, Alberta’s Brooks Bandits, Saskatchewan’s Yorkton Terriers and Manitoba’s Steinbach Pistons.
The five teams will play a round robin to determine four playoff spots, then there will be a curling-style playoff to crown a WCC champion and then a second qualifier to nationals. It’s a format that’s totally different from a typical playoff hockey series.
“There’s no Game 1, Game 2. Every game’s a Game 7,” said Trevor Fitzgerald, Clippers captain. “You’ve got to look at it that way, that every game counts.”
Another difference is the opposition. For B.C. Hockey League fans, it’s a rare opportunity to see the champions from junior A leagues in three other provinces. For the participating teams, it means taking the ice against opponents they’ve never faced before, and may never face again.
“We have done some pre-scouting and we do have an idea of what and who we’re playing against,” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach. “But hockey’s hockey. I don’t think there’s massive adjustments that you go out and make depending on who you’re playing.”
Ryan Papaioannou, coach of the Bandits, said his team won’t underestimate or overestimate any opponent at the tournament.
“They’re obviously all teams we’ve never played. [We’ll] just make sure that we play well every time we’re out there,” he said. “We’d just be going on overload if we were trying to prepare four different games, four different game plans. We just need to make sure we worry about ourselves.”
That’s the mindset of all the teams. In tournament hockey there isn’t time to develop a dislike for an opponent, as there would be in a playoff series.
“I think it will be more intense than you think,” said Vandekamp. “You don’t need past-history rivalries to create intensity. What this intensity will be built on is the pot of gold that’s on the end of the rainbow – we’ve got a chance to go to a national tournament here. That in itself will create the competitiveness necessary to make for a good hockey game.”
Paul Dyck, coach of the Pistons, said the WCC teams are representing their cities and their provinces, so players will take some pride and accountability in that.
“There are no built-up rivalries or hatred between individual players or teams, but there’s a lot at stake here,” he said. “I’m sure there’s going to be some animosity by the end of the first game.”
GAME ON …The Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup starts with opening ceremonies Friday (April 26) at 6:30 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena, followed by a Chad Brownlee concert at the adjacent Beban Park Social Centre … The first game sees the Surrey Eagles take on Brooks Bandits Saturday at 2 p.m. The Nanaimo Clippers start with a game against the Yorkton Terriers Saturday at 7 p.m. … To read a related article on the Clippers’ competition at the WCC, please click here.