Prince Albert Mintos coach Ken Morrison poses with the trophy during a team shot after they arrived back in Prince Albert on Monday afternoon. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
In becoming national champions, the Prince Albert Mintos proved they deserved a better fate in their league’s playoffs.
Raising midget hockey’s ultimate prize above their heads on Sunday in Moose Jaw, the Mintos demonstrated that with a healthy squad, the SMAAAHL title could have easily been theirs.
Pointing to significant injury hits to his lineup throughout the season, Mintos coach Ken Morrison is left wondering what could have been had he faced the Battlefords Stars with a healthy roster.
“Right now with the team healthy, it would have been nice to have another shot at Battleford,” Morrsion said of the Mintos second round playoff sweep at the hands of the Stars.
After clawing back from a 2-0 deficit to take their opening round series against the Tisdale Trojans, the depleted and worn-out Mintos went up against a fully rested Stars, who made short work of the best-of-five semi-final.
With more than two weeks between the Mintos early playoff exit and Western Regionals, the team had plenty of time to rest and get healthy, Morrison explained.
“We had a bunch of injuries at that point and everybody got healthy between the playoff loss and the beginning of regionals,” he said. “That was a big turning point for us."
In that more than 14-day span between league and tournament play, the Mintos saw key pieces return to the lineup including defenceman Braxx George and forward Carson Cayer, who were both out during the playoffs with shoulder injuries.
Things came together for the Mintos in tournament play where everything seemed to click.
The Mintos defensive unit, which allowed a league-low 97 goals in their regular season continued to keep opponents off the score sheet, surrendering 20 goals in 11 Western Regional and Telus Cup tilts.
“We played well defensively all year,” Morrison said. “That’s how we needed to play, we weren’t a team that was going to score a bunch of goals.”
The Mintos solid play in their own end was back by the stellar goaltending tandem of Connor Ingram and Lane Michasiw.
While the pair shared the Telus Cup’s top goaltender honour, Michasiw took home the MVP award after posting a.988 save-percentage in round-robin play.
Ingram, who posted a 16-4-3 record during the regular season, led the Mintos to victory in the Telus Cup final, stopping 60 shots in the 108 minute game.
“We peaked at the right time,” Morrison said of the Mintos tournament success. “We came together as a group, figured out how we need to play to be successful and the guys bought into that.”
Falling just one win shy of the league title last season in the SMAAAHL final against the Saskatoon Contacts, last year’s edition of the Mintos is another case of what could have been.
When asked what he thought the biggest difference between this and last year’s Mintos teams, Morrison replied saying hockey is “a game of inches.”
“It came down to one game against the Contacts,” Morrison explained. “A couple bounces here and there could have changed the whole dynamic of the game. Who knows what would have happened if we won the final last year, maybe we would have done well at the Telus Cup.”
Morrison knew that his 2014 campaign was a success after he returned to Prince Albert on Monday and as he came off the bus, was greeted with a hug by former Mintos coach Tim Leonard.
“I learned a lot from watching him coach,” Morrison said of Leonard who is now an assistant coach with the Prince Albert Raiders. “He was with the Mintos for 10 years so he still has a place in his heart for our team.”
Morrison explained how without even being involved with the Mintos, Leonard still found a way to make an impact.
“He always has some good advice or some good one liners,” Morrison said. “Even in his speech at the Regional banquet, he came up with some one liners that really stuck with our guys which hit home with us.”