All of the champions playing in the Western Canada Cup have momentum on their side, but perhaps none more so than the Surrey Eagles.
Though the Eagles (35-13-3-4) finished 2012-13 with the best record in the B.C. Hockey League, some considered their Fred Page Cup victory over the Penticton Vees to be a bit of an upset. That said, the Eagles are white hot, having rolled through the playoffs with a 14-3 record.
“And really, [we] have been on a pretty good roll since Christmas,” said Matt Erhart, Eagles coach. “We’re on a bit of an emotional high, and our guys are focused. They want to win the Royal Bank Cup. We haven’t talked about the Royal Bank Cup yet, but everyone knows that’s what we’re after. [Westerns] is just another stage we have to get through.”
Michael Santaguida has a 1.65 goals-against average this spring for the Eagles. Michael Stenerson is their top playoff scorer with 20 points and Adam Tambellini and Brady Shaw are pro prospects.
If there is a favourite going into the Western Canada Cup, it is the Brooks Bandits.
The Alberta Junior Hockey League club (53-4-3) set a record for most wins, then added a championship to the trophy case.
The Bandits were challenged in the playoffs, with one series going to seven games.
“We faced some adversity and I guess our guys showed that they have some pretty good resolve,” said Ryan Papaioannou, Bandits coach.
Whether or not his team is the favourite doesn’t matter one bit, he said.
“There’s going to be four champions there and there’s going to be a really hungry Nanaimo Clippers team playing in front of their home fans,” Papaioannou said. “I think everybody’s got a really good opportunity to move on.”
Cam Maclise is the Bandits’ leading scorer with 19 points and defenceman Maddison Smiley was named the AJHL’s playoff MVP. Michael Fredrick is the team’s No. 1 goalie.
Saskatchewan’s Yorkton Terriers will be the first opponent for the Nanaimo Clippers at the Western Canada Cup on Saturday (April 27). That night at Frank Crane Arena, it will be a matchup between two teams clad in orange, white and black.
Another similarity between the teams is they’ve both had a bit of a gap between games – after the host Clippers, the Terriers (36-14-1-3) were the next team to secure a berth in the WCC with their championship victory April 14.
“They’re certainly proud of the accomplishment of winning our league, but they seem to be pretty driven, still,” said Trent Cassan, Terriers coach. “I know Nanaimo is a very nice place – they’re not taking it as just a vacation out West.”
Good goaltending from Dawson MacAuley has been a key, as well as balanced scoring and depth at forward. Tyler Giebel with 15 points, Jeremy Johnson and Patrick Martens are the team’s top playoff scorers.
Whereas Surrey, Brooks and Yorkton all finished 2012-13 with the best records in their leagues, the Steinbach Pistons were more of a playoff Cinderella story.
To win the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship, the Pistons (31-25-4) had to knock off opponents who finished 25 and 30 points higher in the standings.
“All the way along our group’s shown that they have a lot of character and they’re a very competitive group,” said Paul Dyck, the team’s coach. “Our focus intensified and our confidence grew as we started winning games.”
Now that the team has exceeded its goals, it might as well try for another.
“Players were very excited with what took place here last week and deservedly so…” Dyck said. “The challenge for us now is to refocus on the new opportunity that lies ahead for us.”
Steinbach is led by goalie Corey Koop and no one comes into the WCC with more playoff points than Justin Dalebozik’s 26.
-with files from Nick Greenizan