If history is any indication you can expect some tough competition at the 2004 Hockey Canada AAA Midget Western Regional championship April 1-4 in Regina, Sask.
Of the four competing teams three of the organizations are previous winners of a combined seven national midget hockey titles while the fourth club has won back-to-back titles in league play.
The host Regina Pat Canadians has four national midget championship banners to their credit having captured gold 1983, 1988, 19. Regina was also a finalist back in 1989.
The Thunder Bay ScotiaMcLeod Kings, who will represent Hockey Northwestern Ontario at the event, can boast two national midget crowns back in 19 as well as a pair of national silver medals in 19.
As champions of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, the Tisdale Trojans are also no strangers to national laurels having recently captured the then Air Canada Cup in 2002.
Even the Brandon Wheat Kings, who earned the right to represent Hockey Manitoba at the western regional, have championship accolades having claimed the Manitoba Midget Hockey League playoff championship in each of the last two seasons.
Thunder Bay earned the right to participate in Regina by capturing the HNO district playdown March 19-21 in Kenora. Posting a 3-0 record in Kenora the Kings moved on when they defeated the Kenora Stars 3-2 in the championship game highlighted by Brendan Haber’s two-goal performance. The Stars season is not done however as they will host the 2004 National Midget Hockey Championship April 19-25 at the Kenora Recreation Centre.
Offensively the trio of Luke Cain, Lee Pagee and Haber who have recorded 94, 80 and 76 points respectively so far this season pace the Kings.
Thunder Bay, which sports a 25-12-2 record against AAA midget opponents so far this season, has eight players back from last year’s club that advanced to the western regional final. The eight are Cain, team captain Andrew Fernandez, assistant captains Justin Elvish, Matt Hamilton and Joey Harris along with Conor Lyon, Jeff Maronese and goaltender Chris Bruno.
Bruno and netminding partner Kelly Heikkila have rattled off 39 wins and 10 shutouts over the course of the overall 74-game season.
Brandon meanwhile returns to the western regional for a second straight year having claimed the Manitoba midget crown following a 6-3 win over the Winnipeg Thrashers in the fifth and deciding game of the MMHL final.
The Wheaties also provide plenty of firepower having the top three scorers in league play on their roster. Tyler Dittmer led the MMHL with a league-best 37 goals and 83 points. He is followed Bryan Kauk and Ryan White who had 68 and 62 points respectively.
In post-season play Brandon also racked up the points having the top five scorers as well as having eight players in the top 10. Kauk (25), Dittmer (22) and White (14) led the playoff point parade.
Goaltending was also solid for the Wheat Kings as the combination of first team league all-star Kurt Jory and Tyler Plante combined for 40 wins and six ties against only seven losses in combined regular season and playoff play.
Tisdale too is no stranger to the event as they make their second appearance in three years. Finishing second in league play the Trojans dumped the first place Saskatoon Contacts in four games in the best-of-five league finals to earn the right to represent the Saskatchewan Hockey Association.
The Trojans also provide and good combination of offense and defense. Posting a 9-3 playoff record Dillon Johnstone and Matt Watkins shared the SMAAAHL post-season scoring crown with 16 points apiece. Watkins also led his league in scoring during the regular season 71 points. Mike Reich and Craig Cuthbert also chipped in with eight points apiece.
In goal Jordan Kaczmar was between the pipes for all 12 of Tisdale’s playoff contest earning the nine wins along with a 2.40 goals-against average a .915 save percentage. He also had an 18-9-3 record during the course of the regular season.
Regina rounds out the competition in the event serving as the host team. In league play the Pat Canadians tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with the Battlefords Stars. However the Stars advanced by virtue of recording more wins.
Logan Pyett was the offensive leader for the Pat Canadians during the year finishing tied for 10th in league scoring. In 44 games he had 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points. Goaltender Nathan Heinen, who picked up 14 wins over course of the season, also finished tied for seventh in league save percentage at 905.
Game action at the 2004 western regional kicks off April 1 at the Al Ritchie Arena in Regina when the ScotiaMcLeod Kings meet Tisdale at 5 p.m. followed the Wheat Kings and Pat Canadians at 8 p.m.
The top two teams in the round robin will then meet in the championship game April 4 at 2 p.m. with the winner moving to the nationals in Kenora.
2004 Hockey Canada AAA Midget Western Regional
Al Ritchie Arena – Regina, Sask.
Thunder Bay ScotiaMcLeod Kings vs. Tisdale Trojans 5 p.m.
Regina Pat Canadians vs. Brandon Wheat Kings 8 p.m.
Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Thunder Bay ScotiaMcLeod Kings 5:30 p.m.
Tisdale Trojans vs. Regina Pat Canadians 8:30 p.m.
Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Tisdale Trojans 12:30 p.m.
Regina Pat Canadians vs. Thunder Bay ScotiaMcLeod Kings 3:45 p.m.
Championship game: Top two teams in round robin 2 p.m.