WINNIPEG – Playoff fever has struck twice in the Lowry household.
While first-year Calgary Hitmen head coach Dave Lowry has his team in the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference championship, his son Joel is competing in the TELUS Cup national triple-A midget hockey championship April 20-26 with the Calgary Buffaloes.
“Its been pretty exciting,” Joel, 17, said before heading to Selkirk, Man., for the tournament's Monday start. “Both of our teams have been doing pretty well so it's good to see.”
The Buffaloes are making their third Cup appearance in four years. They lost the bronze-medal game last year and won silver in 2006.
Dave was the Hitmen's assistant head coach last season and was able to watch Joel play a couple games after the Hitmen lost four straight to Lethbridge in the conference final.
This time around the Hitmen are playing the Brandon Wheat Kings and he just might be able to take in one of Joel's games.
Games 3 and 4 of the Hitmen's best-of-seven series are Tuesday and Wednesday in Brandon, about a two-and-a half-hour drive from the Cup site in Selkirk.
“What we're hoping is that we get into (Winnipeg) at a decent time on Monday and it will allow me to slide up (to Selkirk a half hour away) and maybe catch Monday's game,” Dave said.
“I was hoping the schedule would work out that we'd have a day off in between, but no such luck.”
Joel and his Pacific Region champion Buffaloes open the six-team championship with a 4 p.m. game against the West Region reps, the Notre Dame Hounds from Saskatchewan.
Hamilton got in out of the ever-tough Central Region, the Rousseau Sports de Laval-Bourassa won the Quebec Region, the Moncton Flyers are the Atlantic Region reps and the Winnipeg Thrashers are hosts.
While it's considered a pretty level playing field, early predictions have Notre Dame and Hamilton as the favourites.
The Hamilton Reps haven't been at the Cup since 1991. Their record this season of 28-6-2 topped the Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario. They also led in goals for with 193. The team's top scorer is Andrew Radjenovic (26 goals, 24 assists) of Hamilton.
Notre Dame is making its first Cup appearance since 1990. The Hounds had nine players tally more than 30 points each, with Drew George of Regina posting 73 points (27 goals, 46 assists) for third in the Saskatchewan league. During the league playoffs, the Hounds scored 31 goals in three games.
Calgary has also made some noise this season. The Buffaloes won the prestigious mid-season Mac's midget tournament final 6-5 in double-overtime over Vancouver NW. During round-robin play, the Buffaloes beat Notre Dame 5-3 after being down 3-0 in the first period.
Calgary is returning three players from last year's team – including Joel, a forward – and are guided by goalie Sam Brittain, who topped the Alberta league with a .925 save percentage.
“I think we're better suited for the TELUS Cup this year,” Calgary head coach James Poole said. “Last year, we lost our captain in the regional going into the TELUS Cup, which was a big blow. This year, we're a little more skilled, a little bit faster, which I think is better suited for the tournament.”
The host Thrashers also can't be overlooked after suffering a crushing loss at last year's Cup. Winnipeg went into that championship with a 51-1 record – including a 49-0 streak – and lost the gold-medal game 6-4 to Sudbury.
The Thrashers are returning eight players from last season's team. Five players have tallied more than 40 points, including leading scorer Michael Hay (61) and defenceman Nolan Zajac (49), the brother of New Jersey Devils Travis Zajac.
“A lot of guys weren't a part of that pretty exceptional team so it's not really an unfinished-business kind of thing,” Winnipeg head coach Kevin Benson said.
This season has been marred by injuries and it's the first time since November that all 20 players are healthy, he said.
“It's an opportunity for us to kind of make a good thing out of a season that has had a lot of ups and downs,” Benson said.
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