Brandonite Mitch Van Teeling is hoping for a dream ending to his junior hockey career by winning a Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship.
The 20-year-old Brandonite and his Dauphin Kings teammates have advanced to the MJHL final, and there’s nothing he’d like more than to win the Turnbull Cup in his final season in the league.
"It’s pretty special," he said. "Last year we fell short, so to get another shot at it and at another championship is real nice."
The Kings are on a roll and believe they’re coming together at the right time. Dauphin got off to a slow start to the season, but went 16-3-2 after the trade deadline to finish on top of the Sher-Wood Division standings with a 40-17-3 record.
Dauphin has been deadly in the playoffs since then. The Kings have been getting goals from all four lines — the Kings have 10 players with at least six points in eight playoff games — and they didn’t allow a single goal against in their division semifinal sweep of the OCN Blizzard. They then knocked out of the Virden Oil Capitals in four straight games in the division finals.
Now Dauphin is four wins away from its first MJHL championship since 2010, and Kings forward Brayden Cuthbert, who’s from Brandon, says the players are feeling good as they prepare to take on the Winnipeg Blues in the best-of-seven final that starts Sunday in Winnipeg at 7:30 p.m.
"We have a really veteran group and everyone just wants to win," said Cuthbert, who has four goals and two assists in eight playoff games. "We’ve all bought into the team game. We’re playing really well defensively and the goalies are helping out and it’s really what you need."
The Blues, however, are on a roll of their own. After finishing fourth in the tough Addison Division with a 31-26-6 mark, the Blues swept the Winkler Flyers in their best-of-three play-in series and then swept the regular-season champion Selkirk Steelers in four games before disposing of the defending champion Steinbach Pistons 4-1 in the best-of-seven division finals.
Van Teeling attributes Winnipeg’s recent success to being more physical and getting contributions throughout the lineup. After watching game film, he knows the Kings can’t take the Blues lightly.
"I think it’s going to be a tough series for sure," he said. "It’s going to be fast and hard-hitting. I know they’ve been physical. I think we have to play a north-south game with lots of speed and get banging on their defencemen."
Game 2 is set for Dauphin on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The Kings will also host Games 4 and 6, if necessary, April 13 and 18. All games start at 7:30 p.m.
Since Dauphin is hosting the Western Canada Cup — which determines which two Junior A teams from the Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. leagues will represent Western Canada at the RBC Cup — both the Kings and Blues will advance to the tournament.
While there are bigger rewards for being successful at the Western Canada Cup — slated for April 26 to May 4 — the Kings are focused on winning a league title first. They decided after the Christmas break that they wouldn’t be distracted or talk about being the WCC host team, and they are keeping those blinders on as they seek their first Turnbull Cup in four years.
"We’re definitely really focused on the series at hand," Cuthbert said. "It helps that both of us know we’re going to be in the Western Canada Cup, which is a nice fallback, but we really just want to get that championship."