After spending the entire Manitoba Junior Hockey League season trying not to think about hosting the Western Canada Cup, the Dauphin Kings are now getting excited to play in the event.
The tournament which decides which two teams will represent the four western provinces at the RBC Cup begins on Saturday when Saskatchewan’s Yorkton Terriers take on the Winnipeg Blues at 2 p.m. It will be followed up by the host Kings facing the Alberta league champion Spruce Grove Saints at 7 p.m.
Coming off a disappointing five-game loss in the best-of-seven league final to the Blues, Kings head coach Marlin Murray said his team, which finished atop the Sher-Wood Division standings in the regular season with a 40-17-3 mark, is ready to go.
"They’re a focused group," he said. "We’ve been adamant about not thinking about it during the season and now that it’s just around the corner it’s an exciting time of year for us and the players. I’m sure they have some nerves and whatnot, but once they settle into the tournament and get their feet wet in the first game that the nerves will wear off and it will be just another game."
The Coquitlam Express are representing the British Columbia Hockey League. The five teams will play a round robin that ends on Thursday with playoff games set for next Saturday and Sunday to determine which two go to the national championship.
Dauphin — which features Brandonites Mitch Van Teeling and Brayden Cuthbert as well as Wawanesa’s Jordan Thomson, Virden’s Cameron Whyte, Souris’s Tanner Butler, Cartwright’s Tristen Mullin and Killarney’s Jesse Bernard and Aubrey Chapman — is expecting to see some very good hockey teams.
The Saints are ranked fourth in Canada and dominated the AJHL with a 47-10-3 regular-season record before going
12-6 in the playoffs. The Terriers are ranked 10th in the nation after topping the SJHL with a 37-12-2-5 mark and an impressive 12-2 playoff record. Meanwhile, the Saints and Express both had subpar regular seasons but got hot in the playoffs and knocked off their leagues’ best teams to advance to the Western Canada Cup.
Other than the Blues, the Kings haven’t faced any of the other teams this season. However, Murray has talked to his friends in the other leagues to get a solid scouting report on each squad and believes his team can be successful if the Kings get solid goaltending, use their depth and aren’t afraid to go into the tough areas.
"The competition that’s here is going to be outstanding," he said. "It will be top-end talent, the best talent we’ve seen all year. For us to be successful, I think we’ll have to be at the top of our game or even outside our limits and exceed that."
Murray hopes to see a packed Credit Union Place, and expects Winnipeg and Yorkton to bring some fans as well.
Terriers forward Derek Falloon knows his team will have a lot of support in Dauphin. Falloon, who’s in his final year of junior eligibility, is from Russell and started his junior career with the Kings. Some of his family and friends are making the trip to cheer him on during the event, and he hopes to put on a show.
Falloon, who spent most of the regular season as a penalty killer and managed only four goals and 13 points in 43 games, started heating up offensively in the playoffs when he posted three goals and seven points in 14 games. He was also a part of the Terriers team that lost 1-0 to the Brooks Bandits in one of the RBC Cup qualifiers at last year’s Western Canada Cup.
Although he’s looking forward to playing in front of familiar faces, the 5-foot-7, 160-pound forward hopes he doesn’t end his career in Dauphin and that his team can make amends for last year and get to the RBC Cup in Vernon, B.C.
"The guys really want it this year. We feel like we can get that extra goal this year to take us there," he said. "We have to play our game and work hard and make sure we shut down the other team and that’s about it. Just play our game."