After dominating the Newfoundland & Labrador Major Midget Hockey League regular season with a 25-1-1 record, scoring 203 goals and only allowing 50, the St. John’s Privateers continued their winning ways in the first round of the playoffs, sweeping the Central IcePak in four straight by a combined score of 35-8.
The Privateers now set their sights on the NLMMHL championship series against their cross-town rivals, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, with the best-of-seven affair set to begin March 10 at the Goulds Arena. Both teams will use this series as a tune up for the Atlantic Major Midget Championship, being held in Torbay, N.L., at the Jack Byrne Arena, March 29 to April 1.
Newfoundland & Labrador will have two entries in the five-team Atlantics: the host Maple Leafs and the Privateers, who will be the NLMMHL representatives regardless of the outcome of the league final. The winner of the Atlantic tournament moves on to represent the region at the TELUS Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship, in Leduc, Alta.
The Atlantic Major Midget Championship is the top minor hockey tournament in the region and the only one that sees the winner advance to a national championship. Besides the two St. John’s teams, provincial champions from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will round out the field.
Come April 1, when the championship game faces off, the Privateers expect to be in familiar territory – on the ice. St. John’s has appeared in the last two Atlantic finals, winning in 2010 before falling to Halifax last year.
“We aren’t just showing up to say we were here,” said Kris Abbott, an assistant coach with the Privateers. “Our organization, from president to coaches, players and training staff, has put in hundreds of hours and buckets of sweat to get us where we want to be at the end of the year – Leduc. Now that we are this close, we are all ready to make that final push to get us there.”
Privateers head coach Doug Jackman also believes his team is a real contender for the Atlantic crown.
“At the beginning of the year, nobody knew where we stood when it comes to competing with teams like Halifax, Dartmouth, and Moncton,” Jackman said. “I think that over the course of the season we have proven that we are right there with those teams. QMJHL scouts that saw us play in Moncton and again in Gatineau felt that we had improved drastically and should compete with the other top teams.
“This organization has a history and a tradition of being a perennial contender for the Atlantic crown. We intend on keeping that tradition alive.”
However, unlike many of the successful teams in the organization’s storied past – St. John’s teams have made nine appearances at the National Midget Championship, more than any other Atlantic team – the Privateers do not rely on one standout to carry the load.
“We don’t have a Teddy Purcell, Zach O’Brien or Marcus Power that we can send over the boards to get us a goal,” said Jackman. “We grind and work hard for everything we get.
“We have four lines that can score on any given shift.I feel completely comfortable sending out any of our 12 forwards knowing that they all have the ability to put one up on the board. For us it’s been a different guy every night. It could be our captain or it could be an affiliate player that’s been called up.”
With respect to the NLMMHL final, the Privateers have developed a healthy rivalry with their cross-town rivals;the teams met seven times, with the Privateers posting a 5-1-1 record, meaning their only two losses came at the hands of the Maple Leafs – a 2-1 shootout defeat on Oct. 14 and a 4-3 setback on Dec. 16.
Both sides are looking forward to ratcheting up the intensity level heading into the Atlantic Regional.
“While the outcome of the final series doesn’t matter in terms of advancing to Atlantics, we set out on a mission to get eight wins in our league playoffs and we are still going to push to reach that goal,” said Jackman. "We often talk about the history of our organization and a win in this series will cement our team into a place with guys who have competed for National Midget Championships, Memorial Cups, CIS championships, Herder Memorial Championships, the Allan Cup and the Stanley Cup.”
The two St. John’s teams are very similar in their makeup. The average age of the Privateers is 16 years old, while the Leafs come in at 15.7 years. Both teams have a player that has been to three consecutive Atlantic championships and two consecutive TELUS Cups: Lindstrom for the Privateers and Connor Donaghey for the Maple Leafs.
As well, the Privateers have four players who competed in last year’s TELUS Cup, where St. John’s served as host (Marcus Cuomo, Matthew Jenkins, Nick Lindstrom and Joey Trenholm), while the Maple Leafs have five (Bradyn Brown, Connor Donaghey, Lee Gulliver, Brandon Pye and Nathan Yetman).
The two head coaches, Jackman and Maple Leafs bench boss Darren Halloran, previously coached together for a number of years, with Jackman moving on to take the helm of the Privateers this year.
All in all, it makes for a very exciting and potentially long series between the two clubs.
Story courtesy Kris Abbott, www.hockeyscene.com