The Saint John Vito’s have known since the season began back in September that they’d be part of the 2016 TELUS Cup, but that didn’t stop the tournament
hosts from enjoying success on the way there.
Opening their schedule with six consecutive wins in the New Brunswick/Prince Edward Island Major Midget Hockey League, Saint John climbed to the top of the
NBPEIMMHL and stayed there for most of the season.
Only a four-game losing streak to close out the campaign kept the Vito’s from a regular-season championship; they finished just a single point behind the
Kensington Wild, but still took the No. 1 seed in New Brunswick for the postseason.
“In the second half of the season, we ran into a couple of suspensions and injuries and then some absences – we had a player who went to the Youth Olympics
– so we struggled and limped to the finish line down the stretch,” says Saint John head coach Ken Dobson.
But the bench boss says the slump actually helped his team heading into the playoffs.
“If you look at any program that’s had some key success, and you ask any of them what they’ve drawn from that success, chances are they’ll usually
reference a point in time where they went through adversity,” Dobson says. “I’m a firm believer in adversity being an important part of growth.”
Despite the late-season swoon, the Vito’s had an impressive weapon they could turn to in crucial games; its special teams; Saint John not only scored 45
goals on the power play, but it struck six times while playing shorthanded, both league bests.
It also spread around the offence, with five players cracking the top 20 in league scoring; Anderson MacDonald – the aforementioned Youth Olympian – paced
the Vito’s with 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 26 games, good for seventh in the NBPEIMMHL scoring race.
The Vito’s had a comfortable run through the NBPEIMMHL playoffs, needing just five games in each series to beat Miramichi in the semifinals and Moncton in
the provincial final, booking a trip to the Atlantic Regional.
“We got healthy in time for the playoffs and had a really good first round against Miramichi,” says Dobson. “Then we went 4-1 in our Moncton series which
was really good, and we got in some great games that led us into the Atlantics.”
The Moncton series win was a confidence boost, because the Flyers had topped the NBPEIMMHL for the past five seasons and were not to be taken lightly.
In Conception Bay South, N.L., for Atlantics, the Vito’s had an up-and-down preliminary round, shutting out Kensington 2-0 and the St. John’s Leafs 4-0,
but falling 6-4 to the St. John’s Privateers and 4-3 in a shootout to the Dartmouth Major Midgets.
A 2-2 record was enough to get Saint John into the championship game for a rematch against Dartmouth, in a game with only regional bragging rights on the
line, since both teams were assured of TELUS Cup berths.
After more than 51 minutes of scoreless hockey the Major Midgets opened the scoring, only to see Alex Hambly equalize for the Vito’s with 10 seconds left
and an extra attacker on the ice.
That set up Ben Reid for the winner just one minute into overtime, giving Saint John a 2-1 overtime win and the Atlantic Region championship; the Vito’s
are just the second host team in the last 10 years to win league and regional championships – the Red Deer Rebels turned the trick in 2007.
“We had a really good tournament and had some very good games against Dartmouth and were happy to come out of the last one on top,” says Dobson.
“Our guys took [winning Atlantics] personally because they wanted to be the Atlantic regional representatives and not just the hosts. Complacency is
something that can creep in very quickly and very easily, but our guys ended up delivering.”
Now Saint John is faced with history; since the start of the six-team format in 1984, only three hosts teams have won Canada’s National Midget
Championship, none since the Calgary Northstars in 1991.
HOW SAINT JOHN GOT TO QUISPAMSIS
N.B./P.E.I. Major Midget Hockey League
Semifinal: defeated Miramichi 4-1 (7-1, 3-2, 3-4, 6-3, 5-1)
N.B. championship: defeated Moncton 4-1 (5-4, 4-3 OT, 1-2, 3-2, 4-1)
Round robin: second place – 2-2 (defeated Kensington 2-0, lost to St. John’s Privateers 6-4, lost to Dartmouth 4-3 SO, defeated St. John’s Leafs 4-0)
Championship: defeated Dartmouth 2-1 OT
Record: 23-11-1 (2nd in NBPEIMMHL)
Goals For: 134 (3rd in NBPEIMMHL)
Goals Against: 88 (1st in NBPEIMMHL)
Longest Winning Streak: 6 (Sep. 25 – Oct. 16)
Top 3 Scorers:
Anderson MacDonald – 18G 18A 36P (7th in NBPEIMMHL)
Alex Lafreniere – 15G 19A 34P (10th in NBPEIMMHL)
Ian Smallwood – 20G 13A 33P (12th in NBPEIMMHL)
Goals For: 56
Goals Against: 34
Top 3 Scorers:
Alex Lafreniere – 9G 20A 29P
Ben Reid – 8G 10A 18P
Ian Smallwood – 6G 11A 17P
NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
1998 – Saint John Flames | fifth place | 2-3-0 | 20GF 17 GA
1983 – Saint John Pepsi | 11th place | 0-5-0 | 14GF 30GA
1981 – Saint John Pepsi | 10th place | 1-3-1 | 12GF 20GA
PLAYERS TO WATCH
solid two-way player … very good speed … good work ethic … plays with composure … reads the play well … tremendous vision … good acceleration on and off
big power forward with skill … pure goal scorer … quick release … uses strength to his advantage … strong in one-on-one battles … makes good decisions with
and without the puck
mobile defenceman … good size and skill … sees the ice very well … plays in all situations … can be a difference-maker … hard, accurate shot … makes a good
QMJHL DRAFTED PLAYERS
Jacob Stewart – Blainville-Boisbriand 2015 (3rd round, 46th overall)
Ben Reid – Saint John 2015 (7th round, 119th overall)
Ian Smallwood – Saint John 2015 (9th round, 159th overall)
Alexandre Lafreniere – Saint John 2015 (11th round, 190th overall)