Many of the John Taylor Pipers have been playing hockey together since they were young kids, and they’ve yet to taste victory at season’s end.
Thirteen members of the team’s roster are in Grade 12, and much of that group grew up together at the Assiniboia West Recreation Association before moving on to the St. James Canadians AA club and, eventually, their high school team.
This could be their last chance to win a championship together. But it could also be their best chance.
"That would be amazing," said goalie Brett Bigourdin, who posted a 1.73 goals-against average this season as the Pipers finished second to St. Paul’s in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s A Division at 15-7.
"I’ve been playing with this group since I was a kid, and we’ve been waiting for this for a lot of years. There weren’t any real close calls (to winning a title) until now."
The Pipers open their playoff run this week after resting up thanks to a first-round bye.
Bigourdin, a Crestview resident, said the only explanation for the team’s surge this season is a strong work ethic.
"Everyone is working hard and buying into our system," he said. "We all want it so bad."
Head coach Justin Steeves said a pair of early-season tournament victories helped instil confidence in the team. The Pipers won the Sturgeon Heights Husky Classic in October, and then snagged the JSerra Thanksgiving Invitational in Anaheim, Calif., in November.
That tournament saw the Pipers defeat a California team in a final that featured two of Teemu Selanne’s sons on its roster.
"It was a pretty good crowd down there," Steeves said. "They played both anthems, so there was kind of a Canada-U.S. atmosphere. We fed off being the underdogs and having the crowd boo us and it gave us energy. Once we got that taste (of victory), all of a sudden we hated to lose."
Steeves said the trip brought the team closer together, and also happened to produce some line combinations that the Pipers have stuck with ever since.
"We have a lot of balance," Steeves said. "We have five players with nine or more goals. We’re getting it from all three lines."
That forward depth, combined with strong team defence and Bigourdin’s play in net, has the team confident it can beat anyone it faces in the city and provincial playoffs.
"As far as I’m concerned, (Bigourdin) should be the league MVP," Steeves said. "He’s been a crutch for us. He’s bailed us out when he’s needed to. The boys are so confident in front of him."
The netminder knows how vital he is to the team’s success, but he isn’t taking all the credit.
"I think my role is pretty important," Bigourdin said, "but without the rest of the team we wouldn’t be where we are."
Up-to-date playoffs schedules are available at www.whshl.com.