All season long, Russell’s Major Pratt Trojans have been looking forward to the chance to play for a provincial AA high school hockey championship on home ice, and they finally get their chance this weekend.
The Trojans are the host team for the championship, which begins with all six round-robin games today. Although they were guaranteed a spot in the event as the hosts, the Trojans opted to go through the qualifying process and didn’t lose a game.
"There’s quite a bit (of excitement)," Trojans assistant coach Jay Thiessen said. "The big thing for us this year is we still played in the provincial playoff bracket this year and we won the north, so I know that gave the guys a lot of confidence because we beat Neepawa, and they’ve had our number since I’ve been up here. They have quite a bit of confidence and they’re ready to go."
Major Pratt has had a very good season so far. The Trojans finished second in the Westman High School Hockey League’s regular season with a 15-3-0 record, and they’ve been just as tough in the playoffs, sweeping the Boissevain Broncos and Dauphin Clippers to advance to the league final.
The Deloraine/Hartney Colts lead the Neepawa Tigers 1-0 in the other best-of-three league semifinal. Both the Tigers and Colts are in Russell for provincials as well.
The Trojans are a solid and well-balanced team. They can score a lot of goals — they led the Westman league with 116 and have the league’s top two scorers in Brayden Cullum (23 goals, 53 points) and Landyn Cochrane (19 goals, 53 points) — but they were also the stingiest squad in the regular season, giving up just 36 goals in 18 games. Sean Cook, who has a 1.86 goals-against average, and Parker Melnyk, who sports a 2.08 GAA, have backstopped a team that has only four defencemen.
Cullum believes his team will contend for the provincial title if the Trojans can keep scoring goals and play well in their own zone.
"Same thing we’ve been doing all year, just playing hard and not holding back for any reason," he said. "(Scoring goals) helped out a lot all year. Our two goalies have also won the top goalie duo in the league this year, so we don’t get scored on a lot, either."
The Trojans open up the event against the Colts today at noon, before taking on the Pembina Tigers at 8 p.m. The Tigers feature players from Cartwright, Manitou and Pilot Mound.
The other pool includes the Melita/Waskada Devils, the Neepawa Tigers and the Prairie Mountain Mustangs from Somerset. The top two teams in each pool advance to Friday’s semifinals. The bronze-medal game is set for Saturday at 11 a.m., followed by the provincial final at 2 p.m.
Cullum said a buzz is starting to grow around Russell, and he hopes to see a packed arena cheering on the Trojans this weekend.
"I think most of the school will be there (today) and hopefully it stays packed all weekend," he said.
Meanwhile, the AAAA hockey championship begins on Friday in Winnipeg, with the Dauphin Clippers the lone Westman representatives.