Brayden Cuthbert and the Dauphin Kings are unbeaten at the RBC Cup and just two wins away from becoming national champions, but they know they haven’t won anything yet.
The 19-year-old forward from Brandon opened the scoring to help the Kings beat the host Vernon Vipers 5-2 late Tuesday night to clinch first place and a spot in Saturday’s semifinals with a 3-0 record heading into their final round-robin game today at the Canadian Junior A national championship.
"We can definitely start tasting it now a little bit," Cuthbert said from Vernon, B.C., after the Kings kept sharp with a morning skate on Wednesday. "It’s definitely a lot of motivation.
"Obviously you know that (winning a national championship is) in the back of your mind, but we have just really been taking things one step at a time, day-by-day and period-by-period even, and it has been working out."
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League club has built momentum through the five-team championship with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots and a 4-3 overtime triumph over Ontario’s Carleton Place Canadians before beating the host Vipers on Tuesday to become the first team to secure a spot in the playoff round.
"We weren’t too sure what to expect playing these Ontario teams and Vernon," Cuthbert said. "We never had a look at them and didn’t hear too much about them, but we got that first win and got a bit of confidence and it has just built from there."
Killarney’s Jesse Bernard and Hudson Morrison of Souris notched assists in Tuesday’s victory for the Kings, who also feature captain Mitch Van Teeling of Brandon, Cameron Whyte of Virden, Tanner Butler of Souris, Aubrey Chapman of Killarney and Tristen Mullin of Cartwright.
While they are already in Saturday’s semis, the Kings want to close out the round-robin in style with a victory today over the SJHL’s Yorkton Terriers, who feature Russell’s Derek Falloon and are coached by Medora’s Trent Cassan.
The Terriers topped the Kings twice at the Western Canada Cup in Dauphin, although both teams clinched spots in the RBC Cup.
After a tough start, Yorkton (1-2) stayed alive in the RBC Cup on Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over Carleton Place.
"The third time is the charm and I think we can definitely beat those guys," said Cuthbert, adding that starting netminder Michael Stiliadis and backup Jordan Piccolino are now both back to full health for the Kings.
"Our goalies were battling (ailments) a little bit (during the Western Canada Cup), but now we’ve got both guys back and all four lines are rolling and we’re putting the puck in the back of the net, so that’s what we need."
Whatever happens today, the Kings remain just two wins away from a national title, with Cuthbert still playing on the May long weekend for the first time in his junior hockey career.
"I wouldn’t want it any other way," he said.