Mathew Backhouse knows what it’s like to play in an RBC Cup.
He knows what it’s like to play for a team hosting the National Junior A Championship, and he knows what it’s like, and what it takes, to reach the national championship game in front of the home fans.
But he also knows what it’s like to come up one win short, and it’s a feeling he doesn’t want to experience again.
“Losing at home, on TSN and after such an awesome season and undefeated tournament, was devastating for everyone,” says Backhouse, who reached the national final with the Dauphin Kings in 2010, an 8-1 loss to the Vernon Vipers. “It ended so fast and left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. I still think about it quite a bit and having another chance at it is something I never thought would happen. It's that much more special being a part of it in my final year and knowing how it feels to lose only makes me more determined to go out on top.”
Backhouse headed west from Dauphin to the Humboldt Broncos, this year’s RBC Cup hosts, on May 23, the future considerations from a Jan. 7 trade that sent Broncos captain Riley Gillies from Humboldt to Dauphin.
Humboldt head coach and general manager Dean Brockman says that while Backhouse’s previous RBC experience was important, it wasn’t the sole reason he went after the 20-year-old blue-liner.
“We acquired Mathew for his ability to play the style of game we wanted in our line-up,” Brockman says. “It was just a bonus he was on a host team in the past. We like that he has the experience to know what it takes to play in the tournament.”
And Backhouse isn’t shy to share that experience, to share with his teammates what it takes to be successful and deal with the pressure, expectations and adrenaline that come with playing for a national championship in front of home fans.
“I try to give the guys an idea of how big of an event it is and what to expect,” he says. “Most guys have never played in a national championship or understand the expectations that come with being on the host team so if they have any questions about it I'm always there.”
But Backhouse is quick to point out that the focus isn’t on the RBC Cup.
For the Broncos, the goal is to win the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League championship and ANAVET Cup and walk into the national championship through the front door, much like Backhouse did with the Kings two years ago.
“We can't always be thinking about May, we need to focus on winning games and getting there the hard way, by winning the league and ANAVET Cup,” Backhouse says. “Taking things day by day and being the best we can be is the most important thing for us right now.”
Being the best hasn’t been a problem lately for the Broncos. While a 1-0 shootout loss to Melfort on Jan. 21 ended a 17-game winning streak, Humboldt has won 27 of its last 30 games and climbed to No. 2 in the latest national Junior A rankings.
A self-described “well-rounded” defenceman, Backhouse is a physical puck-mover who is solid in his own end and likes to contribute offensively, although the Thompson, Man., native has scored just 10 goals in 185 career regular season and playoff games.
Included in that total, though, is an RBC Cup overtime winner – Backhouse scored 42 seconds into the extra period to give Dauphin a 6-5 win over Vernon on the first day of the 2010 national championship.
His 2010 experience, in addition to his rock-solid play on the Humboldt blue line, makes him a key part of the Broncos as they look to become just the third team in history to win at least three national titles, joining Vernon and Prince Albert.
“It’s an advantage for me, knowing what to expect and how big of an event it is,” Backhouse says of preparing for the national championship. “Everyone compares themselves to you and teams seem to get up for games against the "host" team and play their best hockey against us. The biggest thing is just being prepared mentally and physically for it.”