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Let the Games Begin: Puck Set to Drop on Esso Cup and Telus Cup

By Sam Laskaris on April 22, 2017

The Cariboo Cougars, host of the 2017 Telus Cup, will be a favourite heading into the tournament on home ice, especially after a strong year that included a regular season title, plus B.C. Major Midget League Championship sweep. (James Doyle photo )

The biggest hockey moment to date for many of the nation’s top Midget hockey players takes place towards the end of April at the National Championships.

The top female players venture to Morden, Man. from Apr. 23 to 29 for the Esso Cup, while the men will play in the heart of B.C. in Prince George for the Telus Cup April 24 to 30.

Out west, the Cariboo Cougars play host, but also earned their way after a scorching 34-5-1 regular season in the BC Major Midget League (BCMML) before winning three straight series in playoffs to capture the provincial championship.

Their head coach, Trevor Sprague, noted the Cougars had a number of solid young players last year, who set the table for a strong team.

With many of them returning, plus the addition of several skaters from junior, Sprague things their odds are good once again to show up in the last rounds.

“We lost in the (BCMML) finals but knew we had what it took to win the Telus,” Sprague said. “We had some guys stick with Western League teams at the start before they came back in October or November.”

Despite being the host, Sprague said his team is used to being on the road so he doesn’t consider home ice an obvious upside for this group.
“Travel isn’t a disadvantage, especially for us,” Sprague said. “Don’t get me wrong, being at home is great and we loved it during the playoffs this year, but it’s not a huge factor. We’re going to be staying in a hotel this year.”

Consider the Regina Pat Canadians to be a tournament favourite. They finished a league-best 36-6-2 before entering provincials, where they swept their final three series. They’re led by Lukas Sillinger (son of former NHLer Mike Sillinger) who scored 78 points in 40 games to lead the league in scoring. His brother, Owen, was the MVP last year.

Venturing from the coast, the Cape Breton West Islanders are also in the midst of a superb year after a 31-5-2 finish before winning all four playoff rounds at a final margin of 13-2, including two sweeps. The Islanders have four 20-goal scorers from the season, along with several QMJHL draft picks.

From Ontario, the Mississauga Rebels busted out in postseason, finishing 12-1-4 across four rounds and surprising some of Ontario’s top teams. Their 19-7-7 mark was good for third in the league. Teams from Ontario have won the past two Telus Cups.

The Pacific representative Leduc Oil Kings defied expectations after an underwhelming 14-5-5 finish, ninth in the league. However, they were a completely different team come playoffs. In their final two series of Provincials, Leduc beat the No. 1 and No. 3 teams.

Blizzard du Seminaire St. Francois out of Quebec had the shortest rest, concluding playdowns Apr. 9. They had two sweeps out of four series including the finals, and are led by Jakob Pelletier, who scored 25 goals and 57 points in 40 games. 

At the start of the 2016-17 season, 101 Midget AAA teams across the country had hopes to make it to Morden, but only six remain.

Based on their regular season, the St. Albert Slash could be considered the favourites as they earned a 27-2-1 record in the inaugural Alberta Female Hockey League season. In Provincial round robin play, the Slash had to overcome a slow start to win Alberta before taking the Pacific. St. Albert had the three highest scorers in their league by a large margin.

Dan Auchenberg, head coach of the Slash, said new Hockey Alberta team boundaries were introduced this year, which allowed him to reach farther and build a strong team.

“It stemmed from a couple of girls from my previous team who knew the girls,” Auchenberg said. “I sat down with them, picked their brain about who’s out there with good character, want to work hard and want to win. They put a list together, reached out to some girls and it all worked out.”

With three weeks off until the tournament, Auchenberg wanted to give his players a break, but keep the fire going.

“I said we’d take the week and we’ll have a fun skate. I told them to not worry about anything, shut their brains off and relax.”

“It won’t be hard to motivate them. I know the girls believe they have a shot at winning it,” he concluded.

Out east, the Mid-Isle Wildcats dominated throughout the regular season, going 19-3-2 before breezing through playoffs en route to the Atlantic playdowns. The Wildcats went 3-1 in round robin and won the final 2-0.

The host Pembina Valley Hawks are no pushover, having won their Province while sweeping all three series 3-0. They’ll be comfortable playing at home with no travel and this could be a huge factor. Halle Oswald is a top goalie – 15-2 with a 1.53 GAA and .936 save percentage on the year.

A sensational playoff run pushed the Prince Albert Northern Bears to the Esso Cup as they swept their three series in Saskatchewan before beating Manitoba’s Westman Wildcats in two straight to claim the west. The Bears were 18-6-4, second in their league in the regular season.

Hailing from Durham, Ont., the West Lightning allowed only two goals in three elimination games en route to clinching the Ontario spot. A 15-4-3 record was good enough to win their division and rank fourth overall.

Quebec’s representative will have the least amount of time possible to get ready as their championship game concluded April 16, with the Harfang du Triolet Sherbrooke beating out the Remparts du Richelieu in overtime for the coveted spot.

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By Sam Laskaris| April 22, 2017
Categories:  Minor Hockey|Events

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