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The year of the underdog
Few expected the Lions du Lac St-Louis and Saskatoon Contacts to compete for a TELUS Cup after disappointing regular seasons, but they’ve won their way to Quispamsis
David Brien
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April 19, 2016
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Just how unlikely was it that the Lions du Lac St-Louis and Saskatoon Contacts would be among the last six teams standing when the puck dropped to begin the 2016 TELUS Cup?

This season, 152 Midget teams from coast to coast competed for a chance to play at Canada’s National Midget Championship – the Lions had the 68th-best winning percentage at .478 (22-21-3), while the Contacts came in at No. 96 with a .432 mark (19-23-2).

But both teams proved numbers mean nothing; it’s the game on the ice that counts.

The Lions, seeded 11th for the Ligue de hockey midget AAA du Québec (LHMAAAQ) playoffs, beat four of the top six teams to win the Quebec berth at Canada’s National Midget Championship, while the Contacts, who missed the playoffs in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL), came back after almost six weeks off to win the West Regional as host and book their trip to New Brunswick.

Both were tagged as underdogs through league and regional playoffs, and that title will stay with them at the TELUS Cup.

“I don’t think that title is anything a team strives to gain or earn,” Lac St-Louis head coach Jon Goyens says of being labelled an underdog. “At the end of the day, that title is really only given to a team that has overcome statistical assumptions.

“In our case, the moment we started our playoffs we were ‘underdogs’ in every series. If anything, I can say that [our players] relished the challenge and obviously they’re going to the TELUS Cup because of it.”

The Lions got on a roll early in the LHMAAAQ; after knocking off the sixth-seeded Vikings de St-Eustache in the opening round – winning two of the three games in overtime – Lac St-Louis knocked out the regular season champions from Jonquière in the quarter-finals and dominated No. 2 Collège Esther-Blondin in the semis, scoring 19 goals in a three-game sweep of the Phénix.

They finished their Cinderella run with a six-game win over fifth-ranked Magog in the LHMAAAQ final and started packing their bags for Canada’s National Midget Championship.

“We have a confident bunch that doesn’t mind the underdog tag,” says Lions general manager Erasmo Saltarelli. “Our group believes that if they compete and play hard, they give themselves a chance to win. If we’re the underdogs it’s never a bad thing, and it’s always fun to live up to the challenge.”

Saskatoon had a challenge of its own to reach the TELUS Cup, one much different than Lac St-Louis; the Contacts had 39 days off between the end of the SMAAAHL regular season and the start of the West Regional.

But Saskatoon was the surprise of the regional championships. The Contacts opened with a 7-3 win over the Kenora Thistles and topped the SMAAAHL champion Notre Dame Hounds 5-1 to clinch a berth in the final.

They dropped their preliminary-round finale to the Winnipeg Wild, but came back the next day to edge the Wild 4-3 in double overtime to clinch their third TELUS Cup berth in the last five years.

For Saskatoon head coach Marc Chartier, the Contacts went through enough adversity in their season and regionals to prove that they shouldn’t be taken lightly at the national championship.

“Looking at our win percentage and then looking at the success Saskatchewan teams have had over the last few TELUS Cups, to me it shows just how good of a league we play in,” he says. “We’re glad everybody thinks we’re the underdogs. It’s a pretty good position to be in; that’s when you can surprise teams and we’re good with that.”

The Contacts say they’re going to use the regionals as a stepping stone to what they hope will be a second TELUS Cup; they claimed the national championship in 2005.

“It’s tough not making the playoffs, but then again it’ll be good for us to show up at the TELUS Cup and show other teams that we can win and that we can do it,” says Saskatoon captain Tyler Heidt. “We need to play our game, be relaxed out there, and realize that the other teams have a lot of pressure on them.”

So what made the difference?

How did the Lions and Contacts go from middle-of-the-pack in the regular season to being among the final half-dozen teams in the country?

“You saw them grow up, evolve and strengthen their character individually and then as a team,” says Goyens of his young team’s playoff run. “They’re a very resilient and very relentless group. They always found ways to chip away late in periods and late in games.”

“During the season we had our ups and downs with guys injured and some guys not buying into our systems,” says Heidt of Saskatoon’s struggles. “But now everyone is on the same page and I think that’s the biggest thing; we came together as a team and we’re playing as a team.”

They’ve got one foot in the door, and they’ve got a one-in-six chance of hoisting the TELUS Cup next Sunday – will 2016 be the Year of the Underdog?

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Coordinator, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

Katie Macleod
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-284-6427
Mobile: 403-612-2893
[email protected]

 

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