Saint John squad wins first provincial title since 1998 with short bench
SAINT JOHN – The Saint John Vitos are returning to the Atlantic Major Midget Hockey Championship, but that didn’t come without overcoming some adversity.
© KÂTÉ BRAYDON/TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
Colin MacSween of the Saint John Vitos and Patrick Landry of the Moncton Flyers are shown during one of their N.B. championship games. The Saint John Vitos won the N.B. title to advance to this week’s Atlantic Major Midget Hockey Championship at the Wellness Centre.
In the regular season Saint John had 10 losses, five of which were against the Moncton Flyers. Both teams finished with identical regular season records and eventually were head-to-head for the provincial final – only this time the Vitos were playing with three defenceman and a forward on their blue-line.
“We ended up playing the entire playoffs with three ‘D’ and a forward after we lost three to injury in the last week of the regular season,” said Saint John head coach Ken Dobson. “That’s the biggest thing we had to overcome all season when it comes to adversity.”
Against the odds, Saint John defeated Moncton to win their first provincial title since 1998.
It’s that philosophy of not relying too much on what the team looks like on paper that they will carry forward to Atlantics according to Dobson, stating that playing the playoffs shorthanded like they did meant everyone needed to up their effort. He said his team is now healthy and has the players it needs this week, on paper, to be successful, but it’s their execution and effort that will get them wins.
“On paper it’s critical (having returning players), but until we get there and execute, our players will have to be our best players, as well as the other teams we’re playing against,” said Dobson. “I think on paper, returning players provide an advantage, but again we’ve been in lots of situations and examples where on paper just doesn’t come through in the end. It will be up to our guys that played at the Atlantics last year to pass on the information that we were able to get as a program last year.”
Playing in the N.B./P.E.I. Major Midget Hockey League, the six teams play each other throughout the regular season before splitting for their respective provincial championships. P.E.I.’s two teams played a best-of-seven series to determine their champion, while N.B. plays a semifinal and final. Although Kensington’s head coach Mark Carragher said their focus somewhat changes knowing they only have one team to worry about, Dobson said the Vitos focus never changed in New Brunswick provincial championship.
“It’s a little different for P.E.I. because they only have the one series, but we still have any one of three opponents in either round,” he said. “We prepare – depending on where we fit – for the team we’ll see in the first round and then depending on our success we prepare for who we’ll face in the final. There is not much of a preparation change for us, but I could see where P.E.I. would have a different dynamic.”
Coming into this season’s Atlantic championship with experience at last year’s event in Moncton as the second New Brunswick team, Dobson said he has a lot of returning players. Many came back from junior teams to finish their midget hockey career, especially up front. He added they do have a younger blue-line after graduating more players than they expected to last season and that they’re the lone team at Atlantics to have two 17-year-old goaltenders.
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“We have a lot of returning players and an older team, especially up front,” he said. “On our backend we had more players graduate than we expected to, but that’s great because at the end of the day that’s what our job is, so we were a little younger on the backend at the start of the year than we expected to be.”
This week their keys to success will be structure and strong goaltending according to Dobson.
“In any tournament no matter how prepared you are you’re going to need some bounces too and where we’re basically playing three games in 28 hours, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “We need to make sure we use our depth and make sure that structurally we do our job and take advantages of the opportunities presented to us in the games and minimize opportunities we present to our opposition.”
Up front Curtis Hastings (top scorer in N.B./P.E.I. MMHL), Jean-Michel LeBlanc (Rimouski draft pick) and Colin MacSween (captain and Armada draft pick) are the players to watch.
Matt McInnis and Marcus Tesink are defenceman to watch.
Krystian Matthews and Kyle Porter are both 17-year-old goaltenders that will split time at Atlantics, although Porter played entire playoff for Vitos.
Thursday, April 3
1 p.m. Halifax (N.S.) vs. Kensington (P.E.I.)
4 p.m. Central (N.L.) vs. Saint John (N.B.)
7:30 p.m. Opening Ceremonies
8 p.m. Weeks (host) vs. Kensington (P.E.I.)
Friday, April 4
10 a.m. Saint John (N.B.) vs. Halifax (N.S.)
1:30 p.m. Weeks (host) vs. Central (N.L.)
5 p.m. Saint John (N.B.) vs. Kensington (P.E.I.)
8 p.m. Weeks (host) vs. Halifax (N.S.)
Saturday, April 5
9 a.m. Kensington (P.E.I.) vs. Central (N.L.)
12:30 p.m. Weeks (host) vs. Saint John (N.B.)
3:30 p.m. Central (N.L.) vs. Halifax (N.S.)
Sunday, April 6
1 p.m. Gold Medal Game