The games have been played, the field is set, the hotel rooms have been booked and the ice is ready. All that is left is for the first puck to drop at the 2008 TELUS Cup.
Five teams will converge on Arnprior, ON beginning April 21st, joining the host Ottawa Valley Titans in a quest for Canada’s National Midget Championship. This year’s field includes a mix of first-timers and returnees, including three teams who have made trips to the TELUS Cup since 2005.
Here’s a look at the contenders:
CALGARY BUFFALOES – PACIFIC REGION
The last time the Buffaloes stepped on the ice at a National Midget Championship they lost the longest game in tournament history – a triple-overtime classic to the Prince Albert Mintos in the 2006 gold medal game.
Two years later, the 1989 national champions are back, looking to take that one last step and become TELUS Cup champions. History is on the side of the Buffaloes, as all five previous trips they have made to the National Midget Championship have resulted in a medal – one gold (1989), one silver (2006) and three bronze (1985, 1987, 1998).
COLE HARBOUR MCCAINS – ATLANTIC REGION
Fifth-place finishers in 2005, the McCains enter the 2008 TELUS Cup as arguably the hottest team in the country, riding an 11-game winning streak. Facing elimination in their second-round NSMMHL series against Cape Breton, the McCains won games six and seven and haven’t looked back, sweeping through the NSMMHL final and the Atlantic Regional.
Defense is the McCains’ strongpoint, as they were Nova Scotia’s best defensive team during the regular season – allowing just 92 goals in 35 games – and have allowed two goals or less in each of their last six games.
OTTAWA VALLEY TITANS – HOST TEAM
After a so-so regular season – they were under .500 at Christmas – the Titans really picked up their play during the closing weeks of the season, and carried their strong play into the postseason, where – as the third-place team – they won the OEMHL championship and finished third at the Central Regional, including a win over the eventual regional champions from Sudbury.
History is not on the side of the Titans, as just three host teams (North Hill in 1984, Richelieu in 1990 and Calgary in 1991) have ever won the national championship, although last year’s hosts from Red Deer pushed the eventual champions from Prince Albert to double overtime in the gold medal game.
BLIZZARD DU SÉMINAIRE SAINT-FRANÇOIS – QUEBEC REGION
The most decorated team in National Midget Championship history is back for a 14th visit, looking for their 13th medal. Formerly the Gouverneurs de Ste-Foy, the Blizzard claimed its second consecutive Quebec championship with a dominating four-game sweep of Gatineau in the league final, although it was almost on the wrong end of one of the rarest feats in hockey in their semi-final – up 3-0 against Collège Antoine-Girouard, it lost games four, five and six, and needed a third-period comeback to win Game 7 on the road.
The Blizzard is the only returnee from the 2007 TELUS Cup in Red Deer, AB, and will look for a fourth gold medal, which would tie the Regina Pat Canadians for the most national championships by one team.
SUDBURY NICKEL CAPITAL WOLVES – CENTRAL REGION
The Nickel Capital Wolves will make the trip to Arnprior looking to end a lengthy streak – no Central Region champion has played for the National Midget Championship since New Liskeard in 1997, and the last Ontario team to appear in the gold medal game was Sudbury themselves, who lost to Collège Charles-Lemoyne when they hosted the tournament in 1998.
Losers of just four regular season and playoff games all year – they ran off 28 consecutive wins to start they year in the GNML – the Nickel Capital Wolves will look to their potent offense (8.53 goals per game during the regular season, 6.94 during the playoffs) to carry them to what they hope will be just Ontario’s fourth National Midget Championship.
WINNIPEG THRASHERS – WEST REGION
The Thrashers were the only Canadian Midget team to run the table during the regular season, going 40-0, and the playoffs, going 9-0. Despite a loss in the West Regional to the Notre Dame Hounds, the Thrashers carry an impressive 51-1 record into the 2008 TELUS Cup, and are only the fifth non-Saskatchewan team since 1991 to win the West Region. History is on their side, as the other four teams – Thunder Bay in 1992, 1995, 19, and Brandon in 2004 – all played in the gold medal game at the National Midget Championship.
Although their ultimate goal is the 2008 TELUS Cup, the Thrashers can use this year’s tournament as a dress rehearsal of sorts – they will be the host team in 2009 when the National Midget Championship comes to Selkirk, MB.