It's been a Wild ride this season for the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League provincial champion.
The Winnipeg Wild, which won its 50th game last week, will be Manitoba's representative at the 2012 Telus Cup Western Regional Championship, Thursday through Sunday at the new recreation complex in Virden.
As they swept through three playoff rounds, including one against the Southwest Cougars in the league provincial championship, the Wild outscored their opponents 60-14. At home at the MTS Iceplex, the Wild went 28-0. They won 41 of 44 regular-season games, with two losses and one overtime loss.
"The group is unique. I've never coached a group like this one," said Wild head coach Paul Krueger, in his ninth season on the job. "No team likes to lose. But the losses we did have, they took it hard and came back with a vengeance every time. Each game, they have a focus on what we need to do next."
Leading the way for the Wild are four players from last year's team -- defenceman Danys Chartrand and forwards Remi Laurencelle, Ryan McDonald and Sean Higgins, who is team captain.
The Wild goaltenders have alternated throughout the season and playoffs. Ty Edmonds, the only 15-year-old on the team, has continued to elevate his game. Alex Moodie established himself as a major junior-calibre goaltender in a mid-season run with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League when he was called up. Moodie won nine of his 12 starts and recorded his first WHL shutout against the Brandon Wheat Kings on Jan. 11.
"We seem to have a lot of fun when we score first or get the first big hit, so we like our quick starts. We can really protect our lead with the defence that we have and our goaltending," said Chartrand, a Grade 12 student at Vincent Massey Collegiate.
The Souris-based Cougars host team has been a Manitoba finalist the past two seasons. They have seven third-year players, including scoring leader Lucas Oliver and goaltender Brian Archibald.
"We started with these guys as 15-year-olds. We went with a young team three years ago, and we didn't know what that would look like," said Southwest head coach Troy Leslie. "But we got to the league semifinals and lost in five games. So these '94s (17-year-olds) have been to the playoffs for three straight years.
"It's the only way we can compete with these guys (city teams that draw from a larger population base). We try to get a good group and keep that nucleus together."
The Cougars expect to have back third-year defencemen David Heath and Jordan Greig, who missed the series against the Wild with injuries.
Southwest was the only team to beat the Wild in the regular season, and they did it twice. The Winnipeg Thrashers delivered the shootout loss to the Wild.
"We had 21 wins in a row before our first loss, and that was really a wake-up call for us," Chartrand said. "We sat in the dressing room for about half an hour in full equipment thinking about it and what we were going to change moving on. It really made us a better team."
Telus Cup schedule
(All games at Virden and District Recreation Complex)
Thursday, March 29
Winnipeg Wild (Man.) vs. Saskatoon Contacts (Sask.), 5 p.m.
Kenora Thistles (northwestern Ont.) vs. Southwest Cougars (host), 8 p.m.
Friday, March 30
Kenora Thistles vs. Winnipeg Wild, 5 p.m.
Southwest Cougars vs. Saskatoon Contacts, 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 31
Saskatoon Contacts vs. Kenora Thistles, 12:30 p.m.
Winnipeg Wild vs. Southwest Cougars, 3:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 1
Championship final, 2 p.m.