They are considered the Monsters of the West and having won six of the last 10 Air Canada Cup championships, it’s understandable why some people expect the Western Region to emerge as a major power at this year’s tournament. When action kicks off in the six-team round-robin midget AAA event at the Sault Memorial Gardens on April 21, the Yorkton Harvest of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League will be the West’s representative and many consider them among the teams to beat.
“The West is always the team to beat,” said Soo North Stars goaltender Michael Maulucci, whose team will compete in the tournament as the host squad. “I think Quebec and the Pacific will be tough too but the West is always good.”
Indeed they are. This year, Yorkton picked a great time to peak as they cruised to the playoff championship after finishing fourth in the 12-team SMAAAHL with a 26-15-1-2 record, 15 points behind the regular-season champion Tisdale Trojans, who won last year’s Air Canada Cup. But in the playoffs, Tisdale was upset and Yorkton went on to beat the Saskatoon Contacts in four games of the the league’s best-of-five championship series. All four games were decided by one goal. In the Western Region playdowns, Yorkton beat Thunder Bay 5-1 in the championship game April 6 and are now preparing to continue their attack on a national title.
“The West always has a good team so I suspect they_ll be pretty tough again,” said Soo North Stars coach Mike Hall. “The competition in this tournament is always stiff and the West is always right up there.”
During the regular season, Yorkton was led offensively by Michael Holmes, who scored 21 goals and 64 points in 44 games and Clayton Geiger, who had 26 goals and 63 points in 44 games. In addition, Chris Korchinski scored 30 goals and 55 points in 43 games. In goal, Yorkton is backstopped by Justin Mrazek, who sported a 17-9-1 record during the regular season with a 2.54 goals-against average. The six-foot-three, 198-pound Mrazek also sported an impressive .913 save percentage and was also third in the league in wins with 17.
Defensively, Yorkton is guided by Dustin Nehring, who scored seven goals and 20 points in 37 games and by Sheldon Dubnyk, who had four goals and 18 points in 42 games. Both Korchinski and Geiger were named to the SMAAAHL’s second all-star team.
Also competing in the tournament are the College Antoine-Girouard Gaulois from the Quebec Region, the Calgary Northstars from the Pacific Region, the Waterloo Wolves from the Central Region and the St. John’s Maple Leafs from the Atlantic Region. The championship game is scheduled for 12 noon on April 27 and will be televised by The Sports Network.