All the trades Dauphin Kings head coach/general manager Marlin Murray made during the Manitoba Junior Hockey League season to build a strong veteran presence in his team’s locker room is paying off.
The Kings are one win away from playing for a Royal Bank Cup national championship in Vernon, B.C., and his team is filled with confidence.
Dauphin, which lost the MJHL final and the Western Canada Cup final, won its first three games at the Canadian Junior A championship tournament to secure first place before dropping its final round robin game 2-1 in overtime to the Yorkton Terriers on Thursday.
However, Murray, a Melita native, was impressed with the way his team played in all four games and feels it will be ready for today’s semifinal against the Central Canada Hockey League’s Carleton Place Canadians at 8 p.m. (CDT).
"We’re an upbeat group that’s very motivated right now," he said. "We’re a loose group and just enjoying being out here in this experience."
Carleton Place should pose a tough test for Dauphin in the semifinals. The Kings used three power-play goals in regulation time and then an even-strength overtime winner from Brent Wold to slip past the Canadians 4-3 in the round robin.
If the Kings are going to have success today, Murray believes they will need another solid performance from their specialty teams and goaltender Michael Stiliadis, who was named RBC Cup MVP and top goalie at its award banquet Friday and has stopped 132 of the 140 shots he has faced in Vernon.
"Any time you’re successful at this time, you feel your special teams and your goaltending have to be at the top of your game, and throughout the tournament it’s been a real good sign for all of that," Murray said. "I think our special teams have to be good for us to get to the final for sure. We’re expecting the best from Carleton and they’re one of the best teams in Canada, so we’re going to have our hands full no doubt."
The Kings feature captain Mitch Van Teeling and Brayden Cuthbert of Brandon, Killarney’s Jesse Bernard and Aubrey Chapman, Virden’s Cameron Whyte, Cartwright’s Tristen Mullin as well as Tanner Butler and Hudson Morrison of Souris.
Meanwhile, Russell’s Derek Falloon kept the Terriers’ season alive with his overtime winner against the Kings on Thursday afternoon. The victory put the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions into today’s other semifinal against the host Vernon Vipers at 4 p.m.
The Terriers got off to a slow start at the RBC Cup by dropping their first two games, including a 6-4 loss to the Vipers, before rolling off a pair of victories to earn a spot in the semifinals. Falloon missed the first two games with a recurring injury he suffered in the SJHL final, and is happy to be back.
"It was real nice," he said. "I was getting tired of watching, that’s for sure."
The Terriers will be looking for revenge on the Vipers as a slow start to the second period cost them their game earlier in the tournament. The British Columbia Hockey League team scored four times in the first 3:48 of the middle frame to build a 5-0 lead. Yorkton, which is coached by Medora’s Trent Cassan, replied with four straight goals to make it close, but couldn’t complete the comeback.
Falloon, a 5-foot-7, 160-pound forward, believes the Terriers are a better team than the Vipers and can’t wait to prove it. He also has some extra motivation as the 20-year-old knows this weekend will be his final junior hockey games and he doesn’t want to end his career on a losing note.
"I’m hoping it will be memorable for me because it will probably be my last time playing hockey in my life," he said. "It will be real exciting."
The semifinal winners will meet in the RBC Cup final Sunday at 6:30 p.m (TSN).