Pistons reminisce during 2023 banquet


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When the new community ownership group took over the Steinbach Pistons, they were given the option of starting fresh, with a brand new Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) franchise.

No one would have blamed them for taking that option. The Pistons had just finished their third year in Steinbach, with a less than sparkling record. They had never qualified for the playoffs, or even finished the season with 20 wins.

Instead, Pistons community ownership took the risk head coach Paul Dyck was building something, committing to taking over the existing franchise to start the 2012/2013 season. That decision immediately paid off, with Steinbach capturing the league championship less than a year later.

The players and coaches who helped Steinbach win the league were in attendance to honour the franchise’s relatively brief history during the annual Fire and Ice banquet at the Niverville Heritage Centre Feb. 9.

“When you looked at the team, and how team performed, and the core group of people, we believed in that core group of players,” team president and governor Grant Lazaruk said in a video message to banquet attendees.

Lazaruk noted the community ownership group actually paid more to purchase the Pistons as opposed to a new franchise.

“The main reason is we wanted to be successful, we wanted to move into the next step, and we believed this group could get us there,” he said.

Since the 2013 season, the Pistons have become a powerhouse in Manitoba hockey, never finishing below third in the league standings and graduating many players to higher levels of professional and amateur hockey.

In a round-table discussion, former players Justin Baudry, Kyle Rous, Jonah Wasylak, Dan Tailefer and coaches Rob Smith and Paul Dyck told stories of what that championship season was like.

Many times pre-2013, Steinbach even had trouble icing a team, many nights only dressing 15 skaters, and sometimes dressing injured players and not letting them see the ice to meet the minimum of 13 the MJHL requires.

At one point, Steinbach played a game at Waywayseecappo, and had forgotten something important.

“We started to unpack all of our gear, and usually our sweaters are hanging up in our locker room, and everybody was searching around, and there were no sweaters,” former captain Rous recalled, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“Everybody was calling back to see if anybody had left Steinbach and was coming to the game in Wayway. Obviously no one was coming to the game.”

Steinbach took to the ice that night wearing Waywayseecappo practice jerseys.

“Luckily no one saw the game, it wasn’t broadcasted,” Rous said, laughing.

Former play-by-play announcer Kevin Geisheimer, who hosted the panel, chimed in, noting while he did broadcast an audio stream of the game, he just pretended Steinbach was wearing the right jerseys.

“It was Wayway versus Wayway that night,” Geisheimer said.

“It’s hard to believe that’s where the Steinbach Pistons were 11 years ago.”

The championship season was a learning experience for a franchise that hadn’t had a winning season since they were called the Sakeeng Blades. Head coach Paul Dyck said the goal was to reach the 0.500 mark on the season, which they did, finishing 31-25-4.

One of the key pieces of the championship run didn’t even start the year on the Pistons, as Steinbach traded for goaltender and playoff MVP Corey Koop mid-season.

Koop was playing for a bad Neepawa team, and was available on the trade wire for weeks. Dyck said he got calls from across Canada from coaches asking him for an opinion on Koop.

“I said ‘he’s a pretty good goalie,’ and they’re like ‘well why aren’t you trading for him?’ I said, ‘I don’t know — we don’t trade for people.’” Dyck remembered, as the crowd laughed.

“We had never been buyers, we didn’t really know that would be a part of the equation.”

Koop, who recorded a video message recalled the final seconds of the championship, as Steinbach clung to a 3-2 lead and pinned Dauphin in their own zone to close out the game.

“It was one of the loudest buildings I’ve ever been in,” Koop said, adding Steinbach fans gave the team a huge boost at home.

“Hearing the crowd go absolutely nuts in that final 10-9-8, it gives me goosebumps thinking about it now.”

Another bonus for the Steinbach club was every playoff series they played in the team got the maximum number of home games, meaning playoff revenue came pouring in.

“We turned into a club that became very profitable in that first year,” Lazaruk said

“Not only were we winning on the ice, but financially this thing was rocking and rolling as well.”

After the round-table, Dyck addressed the crowd on his own, and thanked Pistons fans for putting the franchise on the map.

“Nationwide, everywhere I go everybody talks about our fans, talks about our community,” he said.

“Steinbach’s well-known for a lot of good things across this country, but when it comes to the hockey community, 13 years ago, nobody was talking about Steinbach. For us that are from Steinbach, and myself personally, it makes me very proud to hear that.”

The Fire and Ice Banquet also featured a question and answer period with current Steinbach players, the annual rookie song sung by Warren Clark, Noah Szabo, Nick Mikan and Brett Kaiser, music by Daniel Dosorcy and a silent auction.

The Niverville Nighthawks will host their banquet later this month, with CFL running back Andrew Harris set to speak at the event.

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