If the Grande Prairie Storm hopes to advance to Sunday’s final of the RBC Royal Bank Cup, they first have to get past the Kindersley Klippers and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
At the tournament’s awards banquet Friday night at the Grande Prairie Inn, Klippers netminder Kevin Dziaduck copped honours as the tournament MVP in large part thanks to his 53-save performance against the Nanaimo Clippers one night earlier. Kindersley’s 4-2 victory eliminated Nanaimo from contention at the five-team event and propelled the Klippers into Saturday night’s semifinal contest against the host squad.
"We were in a do-or-die situation against Nanaimo," Dziaduck said. "We had a great performance and we got the win that we needed."
This past season, Dziaduck actually played for the Yorkton Terriers, who were eliminated from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s playoffs by the Weyburn Red Wings. After the Klippers beat the Red Wings in the SJHL championship series, Kindersley was allowed to pick up an extra goaltender for the remainder of the playoffs and they chose Dziaduck. In the Anavet Cup against the Manitoba Junior Hockey League champion Selkirk Steelers, Kindersley fell behind three-games-to-one.
"They put me in and I won three games for them," said Dziaduck of the comeback effort that qualified the Kippers for the RBC Royal Bank Cup. "It’s just a great feeling. To get a second chance like I did with Kindersley, I couldn’t ask for anything else."
Kindersley now faces yet another do-or-die situation against the Storm, which finished first atop the round-robin standings with a 3-1 record. At the awards banquet, Storm players walked away with three separate honours.
Josh Welter won the tournament’s Top Scorer award.
"It’s been a great week," said Welter, who put up two goals and seven assists in Grande Prairie’s four games. "I’m just looking forward to playing on the weekend."
Welter said the Storm will have to work extremely hard in order to get some pucks past Dziaduck in their semifinal match-up against Kindersley.
"It’s pretty easy to say that he’s going to stop anything he sees," he said. "We just need to get some traffic in front of him. Right now we’re not really worried about the goaltender situation as much as just getting our feet wet in the game and working as hard as we can."
Welter’s linemate Scott McCulloch, who was named the tournament’s Outstanding Forward, agreed that hard work will be the key for the Storm against the Klippers.
"We just have to make sure we come out and play hard and we’re playing our game," said McCulloch, who finished second in scoring in the round-robin with two goals and five assists. "We just have to get some shots through and get to the net and hopefully get some screens."
Storm blueliner Kyle Radke finished tied for third in scoring with four goals and two assists and took home the Top Defenceman award Friday night.
"It’s a great honour," Radke said. "I kind of set some goals at the beginning of the year and this is up above and beyond them."
His next goal is to help the Storm qualify for Sunday’s final.
"We’ve had a pretty good season all around and a good round robin," he said. "We just hope to continue it throughout the rest of the tournament."
Saturday’s other semifinal will be an all-Ontario affair with the 3-1 Aurora Tigers matching up against the 2-2 Nepean Raiders.
The Tigers, who beat the Raiders 3-1 in Thursday’s round-robin game, are backed by the tournament’s Top Goaltender Chris Whitley, who backstopped Aurora to all three of their victories.
"It just shows how well our team defence has played all year," said Whitley, who credited his teammates for helping him win the award. "I don’t think we’d be in this position if it wasn’t for our D and the whole strategy of our game."
Whitley is confident Aurora can beat Nepean again on Saturday to qualify for Sunday’s final.
"As long as we stay disciplined and keep playing our defensive game the same as we have, we should be successful again," he said.
The Raiders will be looking to avenge Thursday’s loss to the Tigers and get back to their winning ways following two straight losses at the tournament.
"I think we’ll come out with a much better effort," said Nepean forward Grant Clitsome, who was named the tournament’s Most Sportsmanlike Player on Friday night. "It’s a great honour. Coming to the national championships and winning that award is pretty neat."
Two other awards were also handed out at Friday’s awards banquet to players not in the tournament. Nick Johnson of the St. Albert Saints was named the RBC Financial Group Canadian Junior A Player of the Year, while Adam Kinnaird of the Fort Saskatchewan Traders won a $5,000 RBC Financial Group Scholarship.