Tanner Butler hopes to end a skid for Manitoba and end his junior hockey career on a high.
The 20-year-old defenceman from Souris and his Dauphin Kings are in Vernon, B.C., for the RBC Cup, the national Junior A championship, which starts today. No Manitoba team has won the title since the Selkirk Steelers were crowned champions in 1974 and Butler would like to change that before he ages out.
"It’s very exciting," he said. "Being my 20-year-old year, heading the RBC is pretty special. It’s just amazing."
The Kings kick off the RBC Cup today at 4 p.m., when they take on the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Toronto Lakeshore Patriots. The host Vernon Vipers, who play in the British Columbia Hockey League, will take on the Central Canada Hockey League’s Carleton Place Canadians later in the day. The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Yorkton Terriers, who are coached by Medora’s Trent Cassan and include Russell’s Derek Falloon, are also in the event.
The Kings had a shaky road to their second RBC Cup appearance in five seasons. Dauphin, which hosted and lost the final in 2010, lost the Manitoba Junior Hockey League final in five games but got a second life as the host team of the Western Canada Cup. The Kings topped the round robin with a 3-1 record but lost the final to Yorkton before rebounding with a 4-3 win over the Spruce Grove Saints in the other RBC Cup qualifier.
Kings coach Marlin Murray, a Melita native, felt his team played its best hockey of the season during the Western Canada Cup and believes a similar effort will be needed if the team is going to make some noise in Vernon.
"I think our guys played well during that 10-day span in Dauphin at the Western Canada Cup," he said. "We need to keep playing the way we are. Our confidence is high and we’re playing our best hockey at the best time of the year.
"… Our top-end players were our top-end players, but we also got secondary scoring from our depth players. To a man, I think everybody’s played their best hockey to date. They just elevated their game here."
Butler, who’s 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, was one of those secondary scorers who stepped up. The Souris native had four goals and an assist in the tournament.
One question mark surrounding the Kings going into the RBC Cup is their goaltending situation. Jordan Piccolino took over from Michael Stiliadis as the starter in the MJHL final but was injured in the last Western Canada Cup game. Affiliate player Troy Martyniuk finished the game and helped the Kings beat Spruce Grove. All three goalies made the trek out to Vernon and are reportedly healthy, but Murray refused to tip his hand as to who will play.
The Kings — also featuring Brandonites Brayden Cuthbert and Mitch Van Teeling as well as Aubrey Chapman and Jesse Bernard of Killarney, Virden’s Cameron Whyte, Hudson Morrison of Souris and Cartwright’s Tristan Mullin — expect a tough event, but they feel a win over the Patriots today will go a long way.
"It’s going to take a lot of hard work over these next 10 days," Butler said. "I think when the tournament starts with that game on Saturday, we know we have to win that game. We have to get a good start. That start is key."