Brandon’s Devon LeBlanc (left) was named MVP at the Allan Cup. (DOUG MATHIESON/FOR THE SUN)
Devon LeBlanc never could have guessed that a season that started in the relative obscurity of Manitoba’s senior leagues would end with him lifting one of hockey’s most storied trophies.
Joining the South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League’s Altona Maroons this season led LeBlanc to a spot on the Southeast Prairie Thunder and eventually a starring role on senior hockey’s biggest stage — the Allan Cup Canadian Senior AAA championship. The 24-year-old Brandon native led a talented squad to the national championship on Saturday in Lloydminster, Sask., winning the most valuable player award and being named to the tournament all-star team.
Two days later, it was still hard for him to believe.
"I said to my dad, it was pretty surreal that I’m standing there after the game and one of the Hockey Canada guys came up to me and said, ‘Make sure you don’t leave with your jersey. We want to take it to the Hall of Fame with the trophy,’" LeBlanc said.
A former Western Hockey League player with the Red Deer Rebels, Prince Albert Raiders and Seattle Thunderbirds, LeBlanc tried his hand at university and professional hockey briefly before returning home to Manitoba to pursue a career as a police officer. After starring in the Tiger Hills Hockey League with the Carberry Plainsmen, he headed east last year to become an officer with the Dakota Ojibway Police Service at the Roseau River First Nation, about 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg.
Some of his new Maroons teammates were members of the Prairie Thunder and they convinced him to join up with a squad that included the likes of former Brandon Wheat Kings standouts Terry Yake and Burke Henry. The team had been to the Allan Cup three straight years but had never won the big prize.
Not knowing much about the Allan Cup, LeBlanc did his homework on the tournament and got a crash course in Senior AAA hockey with a couple of exhibition games and a four-game sweep of the Manitoba Lightning in the provincial final, but it wasn’t until he arrived in Lloydminster that LeBlanc realized the magnitude of the event.
LeBlanc rose to the challenge, leading the tournament in scoring with four goals and five assists in four games, and gaining further appreciation for the event when he could see how important it was to a player like Yake, a veteran of more than 400 National Hockey League games.
"Sitting in my hotel room there with Terry Yake and listening to him saying ‘Tomorrow I’d love to win that championship.’ From a guy that’s played at such a high level, to hear him say ‘Come on guys, let’s win this championship,’ obviously was motivation for a lot of us younger guys that looked up to him still," LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc and his linemates Brad Purdie and Anders Strome, two longtime pros in the European and minor-league ranks, continued to shine in the final. LeBlanc set up Purdie for the winner and scored the last goal of the tournament himself, into an empty net, as the Prairie Thunder topped the Rosetown Red Wings 4-1 for the title.
It actually made LeBlanc a double champion this season, as the Maroons had earlier won the SEMHL title.
"We played in Altona and we ended up winning the league there and to go straight to the Allan Cup after that and win another championship with a new group of guys, it was crazy," he said. "Those are the friendships that seem to stick longer maybe; just the bond that you have with the guys."
ONE-TIMERS: Yake had one goal in the tournament, while Henry had six penalty minutes in four games … The last Manitoba entry to win the Allan Cup was the 2003 Île-des-Chênes North Stars, a team that had a number of Westman players … LeBlanc led the SEMHL with 31 goals in 21 regular-season games this season and was fourth with 48 points. Former Wheat King Jay Fehr of the Morden Redskins was the SEMHL scoring champion, with 20 goals and 60 points in 21 games.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 24, 2012