Saturday, 26 May 2018

Better to be asterisks champ than no champ at Memorial Cup

Old Regina Pats collectables from the 2000-01 campaign.
    Being the asterisks champ is fine and dandy, if you are the host team at the Memorial Cup.
    On Sunday, the Memorial Cup tournament host Regina Pats will try to capture junior hockey’s most prestigious trophy for the fourth time, when they face the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan at 5 p.m. at the Brandt Centre. The Pats last claimed the Memorial Cup back in 1974 downing the Quebec Remparts 7-4 in the national final held in Calgary Alta.
    Of course, there are a lot of sports purists that will be big time upset, if the Pats win the CHL title after bowing out in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
The Pats celebrate a goal by Nick Henry on Wednesday.
    The Pats did finish seventh overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 40-25-6-1 record and were bounced in a tough seven game series to the Swift Current Broncos, who were second overall in the WHL regular season at 48-17-5-2.
    The Broncos would move on to win the WHL title and go 0-3 in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup dropping each of their contests by a one-goal margin.
    Regina was idle for 45 days before taking part in the Memorial Cup. It appears the coaches and players used that time constructively, as the Pats seem to be fresher and physically stronger than the three league champions at the event.
    The Pats story this season eerily mirrors the story of the Pats from the 2000-01 campaign, when the franchise last hosted the Memorial Cup. In both campaigns, the Pats were hovering around .500 at the WHL Christmas break, they made a number of trades after the Christmas break leading to the WHL’s trade deadline to strengthen the club, had a strong second half of the regular season, bowed out in the first round of the WHL playoffs and had a strong showing at the Memorial Cup.
Pats captain Barret Jackman in action in 2000.
    In the 2000-01 campaign, the Pats finished fourth overall in the WHL with 40 wins, 27 losses, three ties and two overtime losses. They fell to the Calgary Hitmen in six games in the first round of the WHL playoffs and sat idle for 47 days before taking part in the Memorial Cup.
    The Pats fell in their first two round robin games before downing the WHL champion Red Deer Rebels 5-2 in their final round robin game and eliminating the OHL champion Ottawa 67’s in a standings tiebreaker game 5-0.
    At that time, I lived in Regina and spent a lot of social time around the Pats. During the break, the players’ consensus was they didn’t care about arguments about not deserving to be there or getting in by the backdoor.
    They were working hard over those 47 days off, so you might as well go out and win the thing and proved you belong in that event. For a club that did bow out in the first round of the WHL post-season, the players on the Pats that season were incredibly tight. 
    They were backed by the support of a bigger group of friends they made that campaign through the University of Regina’s athletic teams.
Members of the Pats, the U of R Rams football team and the U of R Cougars teams were frequently out together in the same social circles.
Filip Novak in action for the Pats in 2000 at the Moose Jaw Civic Centre.
    The Pats bonds were really evident during a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime semifinal loss to the Val-d’Or Foreurs on May 26, 2001. With the game tied 3-3, Pats captain Barret Jackman scored on a beauty set up from behind the Val-d’Or net by power forward Garth Murray to give Regina a 4-3 lead.
    The Foreurs forced overtime inside of the final minute when a point shot by star forward Simon Gamache deflected off the stick of Pats left-winger Kevin Korol past netminder Chad Davidson into the Regina goal to create a 4-4 tie. That set the Foreurs up to win the contest in overtime, when a centring pass from Val-d’Or defenceman Chris Lyness from behind the Pats net hit Davidson’s stick deflecting into the goal.
Garth Murray warms up for the Pats in 2000.
    The setback was a gut punch for the Pats, who came so terribly close to making the CHL’s championship game.
    A day later, the Foreurs fell in the Memorial Cup final 6-5 to the Rebels in overtime with defenceman Doug Lynch scoring the winning goal.
    Unlike the Pats squad of 2000-01, the current Pats entered the 2017-18 campaign on the heels of reaching the WHL Championship series last season for the first time in 33 years. Regina fell in the 2017 battle for the WHL title in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    Star centre Sam Steel, centre Jake Leschyshyn, left-winger Nick Henry, left-winger Robbie Holmes and defencemen Josh Mahura and Liam Schioler are the holdovers from that team.
    If the Pats beat the Titan on Sunday, they won’t go down as one of the greatest clubs in the history of junior hockey that is revered like the 2004-05 London Knights, the 1994-95 Kamloops Blazers or the 1970-71 Quebec Remparts.
Captain Sam Steel will look to have another big game for the Pats on Friday.
    This year’s Pats won’t be held in the same esteem as their 1973-74 club that won the Memorial Cup by capturing a league championship along the way.
    Had the Pats found a way last year to win the WHL title series against the Thunderbirds and capture the Memorial Cup, they would be in that discussion amongst the greatest junior teams having a dream season topping the WHL regular season standings with a 52-12-7-1 record.
    The current Pats still have a huge opportunity to get their hands on junior hockey’s most prestigious trophy with one more win.
   The game will attract a large number of casual fans who will be engaged in the game and not care how the Pats got to that point. They will be consumed by the game in the present.
The Pats hope to celebrate a Memorial Cup title win on Sunday.
    If the Memorial Cup on Sunday means being viewed as backdoor champions, the Pats have enough good players and character to ensure they will do everything they can to make that happen.

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