Three of the five local members of the Prince Albert Mintos -- Braxx George, Keegan Kjargaard Loch Morrison -- pose at the Crescent Acres Community Centre, one of the outdoor rinks that they skated at growing up. Ryan Duret was unavailable on Friday while the Daily Herald chatted with Lance Yaremchuk earlier this week. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
For a trio of Prince Albert Mintos, bringing back the national title on Monday hit especially close to home.
All products of the city’s minor hockey system, Mintos defencemen Loch Morrison, Braxx George and forward Keegan Kjargaard were all born and raised in Prince Albert.
Prior to taking on the Grenadiers de Chateauguay for the Telus Cup on Sunday, Mintos coach Ken Morrison told his team that if they pull it off, they’d be bonded as brothers for life.
For three of the five local members of the Mintos, the foundations of that bond were already in place, having skated together as members of the Bantam level Prince Albert Raiders.
Mintos forwards Ryan Duret and Lance Yaremchuk also came up through the Prince Albert system. Duret was unavailable on Friday while the Daily Herald featured Lance Yaremchuk earlier this week.
“We’ve been buddies for a long time and have shared a lot of moments together,” Morrison said of George and Kjargaard. “It’s pretty special to play at a higher level and still get the opportunity to play with these guys.”
George agreed, adding that coming up through the Prince Albert Minor Hockey system to eventually become a Minto with his buddies was a special experience.
“We knew each other and had lots of chemistry,” George said. “It was comforting having people you grew up with playing at that high level with you.”
Growing up in the city dubbed Hockey Town North, Morrison, George and Kjargaard all looked up to the local Midget-AAA team, an organization they aspired to one day skate for.
For George, the dream of becoming a Minto started to become a reality as a sophomore Raider.
“It didn’t really set in until second year Bantam,” explained George. “I didn’t set in until cuts were being made and I kept staying and staying. That’s when it really seemed like I had a chance of making the team.”
After being cut from Mintos tryouts in his first midget year, George got the call to AAA the next season, after current WHL defenceman Josh Harris got called up to the Prince George Cougars.
Kjargaard’s path to the Mintos was similar. After being cut from the team’s tryouts in his first year of Midget, he finally cracked the squad after a season at the AA level with the Prince Albert Thunder.
Now with a national championship under their belts, the trio recall their journeys up the Prince Albert hockey ladder, listing the various coaching influences that have shaped their careers.
While all three Mintos mentioned former Raiders coach Shawn Phaneuf as a major influence, Morrison listed P.A. Minor Hockey staples like Bob Beatty, Billy Hoko and of course his father Ken.
“My dad has always been there for me,” Morrison said. “I’ve learned a lot from every single coach I’ve had because of their way of teaching. All my coaches through P.A. Minor Hockey, all those guys, their way of teaching made me the player I am today.”
With the Telus Cup now on their resumes, the trio of Mintos now look to the next level, either in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League or the Western Hockey League.
All three skaters are listed with SJHL teams; George with the Melfort Mustangs, Kjargaard with the Nipawin Hawks and Morrison with the Humboldt Broncos.
Although the Broncos remain a good fallback for Morrison, he is also listed with the WHL Calgary Hitmen and hopes to crack their roster next season as he looks forward to attending the team’s upcoming training camp.
Wherever they land next season, the trio will always remember the Mintos and their fans, who they say outnumbered all others at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw throughout the Telus Cup tournament.
“If you look across the bench all you could see was green and Mintos signs,” Kjargaard said of the Minto fan presence in Moose Jaw. “It motivated us to want to play for these guys. We felt that we needed to give back to them and play hard for them.”
On Monday, the Mintos stepped off the bus in their hometown with the Telus Cup in their hands to a grand reception at the Art Hauser Centre.
It was there that the trio realized exactly what it means to be a homegrown Minto, as the torch has been passed on to them.
“We wouldn’t have even thought there’d be fans at the rink waiting for us,” George said of the Mintos homecoming on Monday. “That’s when it really set in that we are national champs.”
Morrison added what it means to him to be a Minto, an organization that he says is a staple of the community.
“You don’t realize that you are given such a great opportunity until it’s over,” Morrison said. “There are lots of people who wish they could be in your shoes, you don’t realize it until the end.”