Elks advance to provincial final
The Shellbrook Elks have some unfinished business to take care of and it looks like they are more than ready to take on that task.
The Elks began their quest for the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s Senior Men’s AAA hockey championship on the weekend and after barely breaking a sweat against the Lloydminster Border Kings are moving on to the provincial final against the defending champion Rosetown Red Wings.
“We’re younger than last year and I believe the scoring has some upside,” understated Chris Thompson, a six-year veteran of the Elks after his club hammered Lloydminster 11-1 on Saturday and followed that up with an 8-1 decision on Sunday. “We’ve added some young legs; our defence is very mobile and basically we’ve added five of our top six forwards.”
The Elks’ first foray at the Senior AAA level last year didn’t exactly go according to plan.
Shellbrook advanced all the way to the provincial final against Rosetown and after grabbing a 2-0 series lead could not close out the deal as the Red Wings stormed back with three straight wins.
“We stated from Day 1 what we want and we all have a goal in mind and that is to get to the Allan Cup,” noted Thompson.
“Our defensive zone is better and that is a big part of winning,” added Thompson, who once played with the Prince Albert Mintos before spending three years in the Western Hockey League with the Seattle Thunderbirds and a number of years in several minor professional leagues. “Like the saying goes, defence wins championships.”
The Elks have another former Minto in the line-up this year as Tommy Brown is solidifying the defence while the forward units are strengthened by the addition of Chris Durand, Patrick Cey and Cody Danberg.
The latter three are part of a nine-player affiliate player list the Elks are utilizing for the playoffs as Thompson says the rules state that these players can be activated at any time and with regular players having work commitments or other matters to tend to, this list makes them that much stronger as the season moves on.
The Elks, who finished second in the Fort Carlton Hockey League with a 15-5-1 record, also have a full-time coach this year, which Thompson believes will strengthen the club.
Lee Spencer, a long-time player with the Elks, decided to get behind the bench earlier this season and his influence has been noticeable.
With players located from around the northern part of the province, the club generally tries to get in one practise a week, but now that both provincial and league playoffs are under way, games will be the focal point for the foreseeable future.
The Elks open the best-of-five series against the Red Wings on Friday with the first game being played in Rosetown. There is a month set aside to complete the series and it looks like most of that will be used as Game 2 is not until Feb. 23 in Shellbrook with Game 3 scheduled for Feb. 28 back in Rosetown. Should a fourth game be needed it will be played Mar. 7 in Shellbrook and a fifth and deciding game will take place in Rosetown on Mar. 9.
The provincial champion will then go up against the Southeast Prairie Thunder from Manitoba as that club automatically gained a berth in the Rathgaber Cup final when the Manitoba Lightning ceased operations at the beginning of February.
With so much time between provincial games, the Elks will stay in shape by competing in the Fort Carlton playoffs, which they open this weekend against the Tisdale Ramblers.
That best-of-five series will likely be completed before the second game of the provincial series with Rosetown and the semifinal series, should the Elks win, could quite possibly be in the books as well.
It is the quest for the Allan Cup that has this group focused, however, and this Friday will be a good indicator of how they stack up against their final obstacle to get out of the province.
It is a long road to get to the Allan Cup tournament in Dundas, Ont., in April, but Rosetown is the next stop on the map and they also know other destinations they want to include in their travels as well.