Is there anything more important to a successful playoff run than momentum? Get hot, and it could mean hoisting a trophy. Fall behind, and it could be an
Unfortunately for the teams hosting TELUS Cup regional championships this spring that momentum was nowhere to be found, and it means a very long layoff
before they see the ice again in game action.
The Saskatoon Contacts finished four points out of a playoff spot in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, the St. John’s Privateers went out in six
games in the Newfoundland & Labrador Major Midget Hockey League semifinals, and the Waterloo Wolves had an eight-game run that ended in the Minor
Hockey Alliance of Ontario semis, giving all three teams plenty of time to think about what went wrong, and what’s next.
By the time the regionals begin later this month, the three hosts will be facing layoffs of 40 days (Saskatoon – West Region), 38 days (Waterloo – Central
Region), and 23 days (St. John’s – Atlantic Region).
So how do the teams get ready, and make sure they’re prepared for the biggest games of the season?
Despite plenty of ice time available to them, the three teams are struggling to find opponents for exhibition games, which all three head coaches say is
their preparation of choice.
Because most teams are still in the playoffs, and the ones who have been eliminated go their separate ways rather quickly, the hosts had to find other ways
to keep themselves game-ready, focused, and hungry.
“We’ve had more high-paced practices,” says Saskatoon head coach Marc Chartier, who has led the Contacts to TELUS Cup berths in 2012 and 2013. “We even
split the ice up for drills so that guys touch the puck more and so that they’re put into more game-like situations.”
“The last two weeks, we’ve maintained our regular practice sessions and now we’re going into three sessions this week, three the next and four the
following one,” adds Waterloo bench boss Jeff Brick. “Further to that, we have a couple of local Junior B teams that we affiliate our players with that
we’ve been doing special-team practices against.”
The coaches all agree that hitting the ice as often as possible has helped their teams shake off their playoff disappointment, but there are a few other
advantages, as well.
The Privateers and Wolves will be hosting the regional tournaments in arenas they don’t usually call home during the regular season, so getting a feel for
their new environment ahead of time has been a unique edge.
“It’s a brand-new rink and we don’t have any players that have played in it,” says St. John’s head coach Doug Jackman. “So just for the comfort factor
alone and getting to know your surroundings, I definitely think it’s an advantage.”
“We’ve moved our practice sessions to the recreation centre, which is where the regionals are being hosted,” Brick says of Waterloo’s preparations. “It’s
an Olympic-sized ice so we’re getting used to the bigger surface there and getting used to our surroundings.”
While they may already know where they’ll be playing the regional tournament, the teams don’t know who they’ll be facing for a spot in the TELUS Cup, which
makes it difficult for them to maximize their preparation.
The Central Regional field was set on March 14, so Waterloo will have two weeks to learn as much as it can about its five opponents, but the Contacts and
Privateers may have only a few days to get up to speed on the champions they’ll be facing.
Faced with limited information, the coaches had to take matters into their own hands and identify what the keys to success for their teams are. Playing
with more desperation seems to be a common train of thought.
Because they were guaranteed a spot in the regionals, Brick and Jackman both say their teams weren’t as desperate to win in their playoffs as other teams
whose seasons were on the line, and a lack of experience and lack of belief have played a role as well.
“Our past two seasons have kind of been rebuilding seasons where we missed the playoffs, so we had players that had never played in an actual playoff game
at the Major Midget level,” says Jackman. “It was a learning experience for those guys, so now we have a second opportunity to kind of do it a little
“The biggest challenge is going in there and believing in ourselves,” adds Chartier. “I remember coaching in past regionals where we had some unpredicted
success, so it’s not about the other teams, but how we prepare and how we lay it all on the line for four days.”
Brick has seen what it takes to win at the regional and national level up close; with Waterloo confirmed as regional host, he made the trip to Toronto for
last year’s Central Regional, and to Rivière-du-Loup, Que., for the 2015 TELUS Cup, simply to identify the required skill and what it takes to win.
“We’ll have to play with a lot of desperation,” he says. “But we’ll need to be successful, [and] being off in March for almost five weeks is great
“We need to refocus ourselves in order to all of a sudden be back and competing at that level. Every game is a must-win if you want to go on so we’ll need
to adjust to that bang. At the end of the day, players are going to have to buy in.”
Will the waiting game, and the extra rest, pay off for the Contacts, Privateers, and Wolves? They’ll have to keep waiting, just a little longer, to find