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Road to the RBC Cup: OCN Blizzard Power Through MJHL Postseason Despite Off-Ice Distractions

By Sam Laskaris on April 06, 2017

Despite off-ice distractions, the OCN Blizzard has its eye on winning the Manitoba Junior Hockey League title and possibly qualifying for the RBC Cup tournament. (Trevor Anderson photo)

Details of its longterm future still need to be sorted out for a Manitoba Junior Hockey League franchise.

But members of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) Blizzard are focussed on their immediate future, which possibly includes winning a league championship and perhaps even qualifying for the national Junior A tournament.

This past December things became rather bleak for the club as it appeared the Blizzard was competing in what would be its final year in the MJHL. That’s because the OCN council announced it would stop funding the Blizzard at the conclusion of this season.

Blizzard head coach/GM Doug Hedley said the First Nation has been providing funds for about half of the team’s $550,000 operating budget per season. With council cutting off its funding – an announcement which caught club officials and players by surprise – it appeared the Blizzard would fold at the end of the season.

But a ‘Save Our Blizz' rally was held. And thanks to plenty of interest from community members who have offered assistance or joined the team’s board, the organization has announced it will continue icing a team, at least for the 2017-18 campaign.

Despite off-ice distractions, the Blizzard has been having plenty of on-ice success this season.

In fact, the team is now favoured to win the MJHL title. If it does capture the Manitoba crown, the Blizzard would advance to the Western Canada Cup, which begins Apr. 29 in Penticton, B.C.

The Penticton event is a regional qualifier for the national RBC Cup tourney, which runs May 13-21 in Cobourg, Ont.

“We take it segment by segment,” Hedley said. “But at the same time we do have a goal of making it to the Canadians.”

The OCN club has been on a bit of a roll, especially in the postseason. The club had entered the playoffs as the Number 3 seed in its league after posting a 39-17-4 regular season mark.

The Blizzard downed the sixth-seeded Winnipeg Blues 4-1 in its best-of-seven quarterfinal series. And the OCN squad then upset the second-seeded Winkler Flyers, sweeping their best-of-seven semifinal in the minimum four contests.

The Blizzard will now have home-ice advantage in the championship final against the fifth-seeded Portage Terriers.

The OCN club is the highest-remaining seed in the MJHL because the Terriers upset the top-ranked Steinbach Pistons 4-2 in their semifinal series.

The Blizzard will host the first two games in the championship final, this Saturday and Sunday.

Hedley said December’s bombshell announcement that the franchise could potentially fold did have a rallying effect on his charges.

But so too did a rather quirky schedule, which saw the Blizzard play almost all of its November and December contests on the road.

The OCN side’s winning percentage started going up once it began playing more at home. The club finished off its regular season by winning eight of its last 10 games.

The Blizzard has kept on posting Ws in the playoffs.

“We’ve continued on playing the way we have all second half (of the season),” Hedley said.

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By Sam Laskaris| April 06, 2017
Categories:  Events

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