When you consider what they’ve accomplished this season, it’s hard to believe it was just three seasons ago the Valley Wildcats occupied the basement of the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League.
From 2006-07 to 2009-10, the Wildcats finished at the bottom of the NSMMHL standings in each and every season, never reaching double digits in victories and winning only 25 games in that four-year stretch.
Fast forward to 2013, and those very same Wildcats will be waving the Atlantic banner at the TELUS Cup when the puck drops to open Canada’s 40th National Midget Championship on April 22.
“It’s awesome,” Valley head coach Nick Greenough told hockeyscene.com shortly after the Wildcats beat the Cornwall Thunder 4-3 to win the Atlantic Region championship on April 7. “It’s a great day for the team and the organization. A few of these guys have put in three years to get to this point and it’s paid off. It was a team effort all the way.”
After four straight last-place finishes, the Wildcats slowly started their ascent. In 2010-11 it was seventh place, then to sixth last season. With success seemingly coming slowly but surely, few expected the season Valley put together in 2012-13.
Led by NSMMHL MVP and leading scorer Nic Blanchard, Valley went 29-3-3, topped the league in goals scored and fewest goals allowed and battled its way to the first playoff championship in team history, erasing a 3-2 series deficit against Cape Breton West in the semifinals before beating Dartmouth in five games.
At the Atlantic tournament, the Wildcats shook off a 6-1 loss to Cornwall on the opening day to rattle off three straight wins to close out the preliminary round, claiming first place and setting up a rematch with the Thunder, this time with a TELUS Cup berth on the line.
Valley got two goals from tournament MVP Grant Janes and two from Jacob McNutt, including the winner late in the second period, and held on in the final 20 minutes for a one-goal victory over the Thunder and a trip to Sault Ste. Marie.
“We’ve gone from worst, to middle and now to first (in the league) and this is our first provincial championship ever and now our first Atlantic (championship),” Greenough said. “Everyone has worked hard to make it happen.”
It’s the first time a team from the Annapolis Valley has reached the national championship since 1979, when the Kentville Wildcats went winless in five games and finished in 12th spot in Winnipeg, Man.
HOW THEY GOT TO SAULT STE. MARIE
Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League
Quarter-final: defeated South Shore 4-0 (1-0, 4-1, 10-0, 6-1)
Semifinal: defeated Cape Breton West 4-3 (4-3 3OT, 6-1, 1-2, 4-5, 4-5 OT, 4-1, 3-1)
NSMMHL championship: defeated Dartmouth 4-1 (2-1, 2-3, 2-1, 4-2, 4-3)
Preliminary round: 3-1 – 1st place (lost to Cornwall 6-1, defeated Saint John 3-1, defeated Western 8-1; defeated Moncton 3-2)
Championship game: defeated Cornwall 4-3
Record: 29-3-3 (1st in NSMMHL)
Goals For: 170 (1st in NSMMHL)
Goals Against: 71 (1st in NSMMHL)
Longest Winning Streak: 10 (Nov. 11-Jan. 3)
Top 3 Scorers:
Goals For: 80
Goals Against: 43
Top 3 Scorers:
NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
1979 – Kentville Wildcats | 12th place | 0-5-0 | 4GF 26GA
PLAYERS TO WATCH
offensive threat … natural goal-scoring ability is lethal … has a knack for finding open ice … high-end offensive skill-set … no slouch defensively … provides excellent work ethic in key defensive situations … good shot
character leader … player you love to have on your team but hate to play against … a physical threat … plays the game with intensity and a mean streak … upside in the defensive zone … no hesitation to play physical
MICHAEL PETTET & JUSTIN RITCEY
elevate their games when the pressure is on … consistently dominant … possess the ability to steal a game … rely heavily on quickness, agility and reactions … play an aggressive style … don’t let bad goals affect them
QMJHL DRAFTED PLAYERS
Nic Blanchard – Victoriaville 2012 (4th round, 62nd overall)
Steven Brooker – Gatineau 2012 (14th round, 241st overall)