Plainsmen, Vikings ready for Victoria Inn tournament
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After three long years, head coach Jeremy Byczkowski and the Crocus Plainsmen will get to host their home tournament.
The 24-team Victoria Inn High School Hockey Tournament begins at 4 p.m. today and runs through Sunday at the Keystone Centre and the Sportsplex.
This marks the first time the event has been held since 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the competition’s cancellation during the last two seasons.
“This tournament is one of our favourite times of the year,” Byczkowski said. “There are so many people that we get to catch up with and the atmosphere is completely different than what we experience on a regular gameday.
“For us to have 24 teams committed once again and to hear how excited everyone is to be coming back to Brandon has us even more anxious to get going, especially after a couple of years where nothing happened.”
Among those that are looking forward to being part of the tournament again is Vincent Massey Vikings bench boss Brent Blaine, who watched his team earn some bragging rights over their fellow Brandon school in 2019.
The Vikings and Plainsmen squared off in the ‘C’ event third-place game, with Massey taking a closely fought 3-1 affair.
“Crocus always puts on a great event,” Blaine said. “You get a lot of the Winnipeg teams here and you also get teams from Ontario that you don’t get to see all that often.
“The talent level definitely gets an increase here during the weekend and you get to play four or five games in front of a lot of people in your hometown.”
There are eight three-team groups set up for the tournament. The final placing in each pool will then determine the field for the ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ events playoffs, which will begin play on Saturday.
The ‘A’ event final will take place at 10 a.m. Sunday, with the ‘B’ and ‘C’ finals getting underway at 11:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. All three contests will be held at the Flynn Arena.
The Plainsmen have been placed in Pool B for the event.
They open up their schedule at 4 p.m. today against the Prairie Mountain/Notre Dame/Miami Mustangs at the Enns Brothers Arena. A meeting with the Dryden (Ont.) Eagles will take place at the Sportsplex at 4 p.m. Friday.
“The styles of play from those teams are substantially different, which is what we often find when facing schools from elsewhere,” Byczkowski said.
“Tournaments like this can really change a team’s season as you can learn quite a bit from someone’s style of play and adapt that into your own game.”
Meanwhile, the Vikings will play both of their Pool F games on Friday at the Sportsplex. They will face the Red Lake (Ont.) Rams at 2 p.m. and will square off with the Sanford Sabres at 6 p.m.
“It’s going to be important to come out of the gates strong against the schools we don’t see on a regular basis,” Blaine said.
“When you look at the high-end teams that come here from Winnipeg, they always have an abundance of talent. They are at the top of their game no matter who they play and you need to have a solid 60 minutes whenever you go up against those guys.”
This marks the third tournament of the season for the Vikings. They defeated the College Beliveau Barracudas by a score of 7-2 to win an event in Neepawa on Oct. 27 and posted a 2-2 record at a five-team competition in Dryden two weeks ago.
The Plainsmen also took part in the Neepawa tournament and finished in sixth place.
At the moment, the two Brandon schools are at different ends of the Westman High School Hockey League standings.
The Vikings are tied for fifth place with the Swan Valley Tigers with a 7-3-0-0 record.
They are led offensively by Brannigan Ferland, who has 33 points and is tied for the league scoring lead with Killarney-Wawanesa Raiders forward Connor Martin. Vikings captain Porter Ewert is two points back of the co-scoring leaders.
“We got a pretty solid veteran group, but our young guys have also fit right in and brought some extra energy to the team,” Blaine said. “They have been pushing our older guys to be better in every game.”
While their crosstown rivals are among the top contenders in the WHSHL, it’s been a tough start for the Plainsmen, as they are tied for 15th place in the 17-team loop with a 1-9-1-0 mark.
Forwards Landon Nadeau and Gilbert Teneycke are tied for the team scoring lead with eight points each.
Although wins have been hard to come by – their lone league triumph came in a 4-3 shootout affair with the Minnedosa/Erickson Chancellors on Nov. 18 – Byczkowski likes the way that the squad has improved over the last few games.
“Since the first couple of weeks, which were pretty rocky at times for our young group, we’ve started to become a lot more competitive,” Byczkowski said.
“They are holding themselves to a higher standard each time they play and it’s nice to see them progressing as the season goes along.”
ICINGS: The Garden City Fighting Gophers are back to defend their tournament title, which they won in 2019 by a score of 6-4 over the Mustangs. The last time that a non-Winnipeg team won the ‘A’ event was in 2014 when the Fort Frances (Ont.) Muskies defeated the John Taylor Pipers in a 6-2 affair.
» Twitter: @lpunkari