After claiming the Manitoba Junior Hockey League final series in five games, the Winnipeg Blues took some time to savour the win -- three days to be exact.
Three days off, that's all Blues head coach and GM Don MacGillivray gave his squad, after they beat the Dauphin Kings and hoisted the Turnbull Cup last week. Because for the Blues and the MJHL runner-up Kings, there is still a ton of do-or-die hockey to play.
"They enjoyed winning a championship and now they're back to work," MacGillivray said on Thursday. "Yesterday you could tell our guys are antsy. They're ready to get to Dauphin."
Now, the Blues and the Kings will battle to fight their way out of Manitoba, as the Western Canada Cup kicks off in Dauphin tonight.
Five teams are converging on the Parklands city for the regional junior A championship, which opens with a ceremony and concert tonight, with opening games set to begin Saturday. The field includes the host Kings and the champions of the four western CJHL leagues: the Blues, the SJHL's Yorkton Terriers, the AJHL's Spruce Grove Saints, and the BCHL's Coquitlam Express. Of those five, the top two will move on to the national RBC Cup in Vernon, B.C. in May.
The last time the Blues won the regional championship was 1994-95, and the Kings last won in 2010. Of course, the format has changed since then. For years, the winners of the Manitoba and Saskatchewan junior leagues played a best-of-seven series for the ANAVET Cup, and starting in 1991 the winner of that series would move on to the national championship. Last season marked the debut of the new five-team Western Canada Cup tournament.
For the Blues, fresh off their spirited march to the MJHL championship, the tournament presents a brand-new challenge. Other than the Kings, most of the teams are all but unknown. MacGillivray and his team have done some scouting on the opponents: Coquitlam has a dangerous top line, Spruce Grove has robust depth like the Blues, and Yorkton can move the puck well.
Meanwhile, the Kings will be hunting for revenge after falling out of the MJHL final, playing in front of a hockey-hungry home crowd.
"I think we match up well, but it's always hard... until you get on the ice face to face with 'em," MacGillivray said. "We're trying to focus on our game. If we go out there and we're not playing the way we're capable of playing, it won't matter who we're playing. That's kind of what we've focused on."
Hence, why the Blues hit the practice ice hard this week. Systems tune-ups, mostly, trying to keep their game plan rolling. Stuff like, oh, how the Blues' power-play rocked through the MJHL post-season at 27.5 per cent. If they want to win against the best of the West, obviously it would help to keep that -- as well as goalie and playoff MVP Byron Spriggs' rosy .936 post-season save percentage -- going.
"We just have so much depth this year," third-year Blues blue-liner Cody Danylchuk said. "We have four lines of forwards that can go any night, we have both goalies that can go any time... I think we feel pretty good. To be honest, we try not to read too much into the other teams. We know they're pretty good."
As for any final message before competition starts tomorrow? "Definitely look out for us," Danylchuk said. "Because we're coming."