2014 Midget-AAA Western Regional Championships
Coming off a thrilling qualifying series triumph over the Kenora Thistles, the Thunder Bay Kings have been practicing non-stop for the 2014 Midget-AAA Western Regionals.
Although falling to American prep school powerhouse Shattuck St. Mary’s in the Northern Lakes Hockey League championship series, the Kings qualified for regionals with a series win over the Thistles to clinch the Hockey Northwestern Ontario AAA Branch Championship.
With the thrilling 2-1 series win to secure their first branch championship since 2011, the Kings are looking to ride the momentum into regionals.
“It was a big confidence booster for our team to get here,” Kings coach Ian Swalucynski said from Yorkton on Wednesday. “The Thunder Bay team hasn’t beaten Kenora the last couple of years so it was good for our older guys.”
After hitting the road for the 1,565-km trek from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Prince Albert on Tuesday, the Kings prep for their opening tilt with the Prince Albert Mintos on Thursday at the Art Hauser Centre.
With some play experience against the Manitoba Midget-AAA Hockey League champion Winnipeg Wild, Swalucynski said his team is ready for the tournament’s somewhat unfamiliar field of clubs.
“We have a pretty good scouting book on the Notre Dame Argos, Winnipeg and Prince Albert,” he explained.
When asked what he knows about the Mintos, the former Junior-A coach noted the host team’s speed and strong contingent of forwards.
Swalucynski said the key to victory over the Mintos will be to match their speed while containing 17-year-old Prince Albert Raiders prospect, forward Lance Yaremchuk.
“They’ve got three solid lines of forwards,” Swalucynski said of the Mintos. “You have to be aware when he’s (Yaremchuk) on the ice and maybe give him a little extra attention when we can."
With 31 points in 20 games during the SMAAAHL regular season, Yaremchuk will go head-to-head with Kings scoring leader Ryan Burton, who finished off his campaign with 25 points in 18 games.
Aware that the Mintos will be revving to go on home ice, Swalucynski said he isn’t overly concerned about Yaremchuk and the Mintos other WHL prospects including defenceman Loch Morrisson.
“We’ve played against other teams with top-end prospects,” he said. “We can’t let them dictate, we have to dictate and worry about what we do and make sure the game goes our way as far as our systems go.”
Squandering a 2-0 lead to the Thistles in Game 2 of the Branch Championship on March 15., Swalucynski noted some of the lessons learned from that series that the Kings are hoping to bring into regionals.
“They tied it up in the second period,” he explained of Game 2. “We could have folded the tent but we relied on each other and realized our potential when our backs were up against the wall.”
The Kings kick things off with their opening match against the Mintos on Thursday before taking on the Argos on Friday and the Wild on Saturday.