Flyers streak into provincials
One loss in last 21 games for North Cup playoff winners in midget 15 league
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 06:00 am
The team to fear at the midget 15 provincials has a target on its back.
The St. Albert Flyers are the No. 1 seed in the six-team draw based on their 21-6-5 record in the Alberta Minor Midget AAA Hockey League.
The surging Flyers are 17-1-3 in their last 21 games after winning the North Cup playoff final 4-3 in double overtime against the Sherwood Park Squires on March 10 in Camrose.
“It’s good to be the top team going in. It’s an intimidation factor,” said right-winger Cam Mazur, the OT hero in the North Cup semifinal to punch the Flyers’ ticket to provincials. “I think teams are scared to play us personally. I would be scared to play us. We’re good defensively and offensively and our goalies are outstanding.”
The provincial schedule for the Flyers at Terwillegar Recreation Centre kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. against the CCRA Blues (19-8-5, second in south).
Thursday’s game times are 11:15 a.m. against the Squires (19-10-3, third in north) and 8:30 p.m. against the host SSAC Bulldogs (17-11-4, fifth in north).
Friday the puck drops at 11 a.m. against the Lethbridge Hurricanes (11-13-8, eighth in south) and 8:15 p.m. against the South Cup champion AC Avalanche (16-11-5, fourth in south).
Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s third-place game and 2 p.m. final are set for Bill Hunter Arena.
The last dress rehearsal before the main event was a spirited Sunday afternoon practice at Northstar Hyundai Arena.
“We’re approaching provincials the same as the North Cup. We had a good experience there,” said captain Brendan Kallis. “We know we have a target on our backs but we’re going to use each other to hopefully push forward. We’ve had a couple of practices since then in re-establishing basics and getting our systems back together and regaining some chemistry.”
The Flyers stand united after dying their hair blonde in the last team bonding session before the playoffs.
“With this 15 age group it’s pretty much our last year together for some of us so we’re just trying to bring it all in and take as much out of it as we can,” Kallis said. “It’s been an awesome experience and a real positive season for us. The team became really cohesive right off the bat. Everybody brought their own little part to the team and that really helped us get first place and it set us up good for playoffs.”
Rick Thomson, the sixth-year Flyers’ head coach, was cautious but confident on the eve of provincials.
“We can’t take anything for granted. We have to come to play, show up every shift and go shift by shift and play our style of hockey. If we do that we’ll be successful,” he said.
Defence is what separates the Flyers from the rest of the contenders.
“We finished first in the league in goals against (69 GA in 32 games) and that’s a team effort thing. Our whole team is built on a 1-0 hockey game. Our defence has enabled us to score some goals and win us some hockey games,” Thomson said. “It’s really all hard work. At the beginning of the year we had to change the mindset of a lot of players and make them play defensive style hockey and as we moved through the year the offence started coming but the defensive side stayed.”
En route to provincials the Flyers won the Prospects Cup tournament in Chestermere and strung together an 11-game winning streak in the regular season.
“Provincials was our goal and we took it step by step. We kept building, kept getting better, kept pushing the philosophy of the team, that defensive style, made sure we took care of the defensive side and moved forward,” Thomson said.
Last year the Flyers finished third at provincials after winning the North Cup.
“It’s totally different teams. Goaltending is probably the only strength both years,” Thomson said.
Pat Dea, the league’s MVP who was selected 22nd overall by the Edmonton Oil Kings as the first puck stopper taken in the 2012 Western Hockey League bantam draft, was a sparkling 13-5-2 with a league-best 1.72 GAA, five shutouts and .946 save percentage in 1,189 minutes. His sixth shutout was recorded in the North Cup round robin.
Back-up Tyler Boe was 8-1-3 with a .907 save percentage and his 2.88 GAA ranked 19th overall.
At the North Cup the Flyers outscored teams 15-9 while going 3-0-2. In the playoff round they prevailed 4-3 in two extra periods against the KC Centennials and Squires.
“Most of the year we didn’t beat up anybody. They were mostly close games and we had to battle to get through them so when we got to those overtime games, and like I said at the beginning of the year we built this team on a 1-0 hockey game, we weren’t panicking. We were ready to play those overtime games, ” Thomson said.
In the semifinal against KC, a team the Flyers finished with eight more wins and 17 points ahead of in the north, Mazur lit the lamp in sudden death.
“I saw the D-man open on the point, it was (Josh) Mahura, the guy who scored the final goal in the next game, so I gave it up to him and he threw it on net. I was just crashing the net hard, hoping something would pop out to me. It popped out in the middle area and I just batted it into the net,” Mazur said. “It felt unreal. It was probably the best feeling of my hockey career. For sure it was the biggest goal I’ve ever scored.”
Kallis described the playoff thriller as the highlight of the North Cup.
“It was the one that sent us to the final and to provincials too,” he said. “We all wanted to be together after that weekend so it was a big relief that we were still going to be together.”
The final against the Squires ended with Mahura, a bantam AAA affiliate and St. Albert Sabres’ captain, scoring in sudden death.
“We had faith in each other. We just knew someone was going to be the guy to help bring the team forward,” said Kallis, a strapping six-foot-one defenceman, drafted 68th overall by the Regina Pats last year.
“What we did shows that we never give up and we don’t get down,” added Mazur, the team’s third-leading scorer with 18 goals and 16 assists in 31 games. “It also shows how hard we work in practice. We’re conditioned. We don’t get tired in games like that. We just outlast the other teams. We keep our energy level up the whole game.”