© Herald Photo by Dave Leaderhouse
The Prince Albert Mintos listen intently to assistant coaches Brad Bergen and Todd Becker prior to a practise session this week at the Art Hauser Centre. The Mintos, who won the Western Regional berth for the Telus Cup tournament two weeks ago, will begin a gruelling week at the 2014 national championship at noon on Monday when they take on the Toronto Young Nationals in Moose Jaw.
The Prince Albert Mintos’ quest for a third Telus Cup national midget hockey championship in the last nine years continues on Monday when they take on the Toronto Young Nationals in the opening game of the 2014 tournament in Moose Jaw.
The Mintos, who won national titles in 2006 and ’07, have had a roller-coaster season starting the year 2-4-2 and then later winning 13 in a row to finish third in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League standings. In the playoffs, the Mintos rallied from a two-game deficit to defeat the Tisdale Trojans in the opening round before falling in three straight to the Battlefords Stars in the semifinals.
As the host team for the Western Regional championship the Mintos took advantage of their second life by playing some of their best hockey of the year culminating the four-day event with a thrilling 4-3 triumph over the favoured Notre Dame Argos in the final game.
Now they will look to extend that life with what could be seven games in seven days and head coach Ken Morrison says he believes his club is ready to take advantage of the opportunity presented to them.
“I think we’re getting excited – for sure,” said Morrison prior to a team workout earlier in the week at the Art Hauser Centre. “We have to be focused on our game and we need everybody contributing and ready to play a full 60 minutes.”
When the Mintos were eliminated from the league playoffs they had slightly more than two weeks off before getting back to work at the Western Regionals. It will be just over two weeks between games once again when they take to the ice on Monday and Morrison says having been through the layoff once before should help them this time around.
“After the Battlefords we had a two-week break where we worked on a lot of things and put in a lot of thought,” says Morrison. “We are taking the same kind of approach this time.”
Being on the national stage can be a bit intimidating, but Morrison brings an intangible that can’t be measured as he was in a pair of Memorial Cup tournaments as a player in the mid-1980s, first with the Prince Albert Raiders in 1985 and again in 1986 with the Kamloops Blazers. He hopes he can prepare his players for what lies ahead by drawing on his past experiences.
“On those teams everybody knew their role,” explains Morrison. “The message from the coaches was the same – be mentally ready to play. Hopefully they know what they need to do and what is expected from them. Hopefully at the end of the year the light bulb goes off and they know their jobs.”
All of the players have bought into what Morrison and his assistants Brad Bergen and Todd Becker have been trying to teach them this year, but no one is more thrilled with the way the season unfolded than 16-year-old Dakota Boutin.
When the 2013-14 season started, the Moosomin product was guaranteed a spot in the Telus Cup tournament as he was a member of the host Moose Jaw Generals. That all changed, however, when after 11 games he decided to leave the club and was immediately added to the Minto roster.
“I feel like I am on the better team now,” said Boutin prior to taking to the ice for a team practise this week. “It’s a closer team; we bond well together on an off the ice.”
Boutin had eight goals and five assists in 11 games with the Generals, but was limited to just 13 games with the Mintos as a series of injuries kept him on the sidelines for long stretches of time. While averaging a point-per-game with Prince Albert in the regular season he became an integral part of the top offensive unit with Lance Yaremchuk and Jared Blaquiere.
In the playoffs, Boutin notched two goals and seven assists in eight games and picked up another goal and one helper in the four games at the Western Regional event.
Now he gets to add to those totals by going back to where he spent all of last season and the first part of this year and he says he is excited to have a chance to play against his former team.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere there and I know a lot of people,” says Boutin. “It’s closer to home and I will have a lot of family and friends there.”
On paper, the Mintos, who will be completely healthy as Chad Grambo is back with the club after bruising a shoulder in the win over Notre Dame, stack up well against the other five teams.
The Halifax McDonald’s (28-4-2) lost just four games in the regular season, but their schedule was also 10 games shorter than Prince Albert (28-11-4-1) and Moose Jaw (25-9-7-3). The Okanagan Rockets (32-5-3) and Toronto (23-5-5), who both lost just five times in regular-season play, will be tough opponents while the Quebec champions from Chateauguay (25-16-1) were beaten 16 times and come into the tournament with the least amount of rest as they just claimed their berth last weekend.
Games aren’t decided on paper, however, as the Mintos will have to focus on each game one at a time and hopefully have seven more left before the season is over.
Following is a schedule of Prince Albert’s games with 900 CKBI providing live coverage throughout the week.
Monday – noon – vs. Toronto Young Nationals
Tuesday – noon – vs. Grenadiers de Chateauguay
Wednesday – 4 p.m. – vs. Okanagan Rockets
Thursday – 7:30 p.m. – vs. Moose Jaw Generals
Friday – 1 p.m. – vs. Halifax McDonald’s
Saturday – top four teams after round-robin meet in semifinals at 2 and 6 p.m.
Sunday – bronze-medal game – 11 a.m.; gold-medal game – 3 p.m.