Pats draw from inspiring example in preparation for 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup
Sometimes experience is the best teacher, but a good example to draw from never hurts either.
Six members of the Mastercard Memorial Cup host Regina Pats were regulars on a team that came within two wins of a WHL Championship last spring. That veteran corps led by captain Sam Steel, blueliners Josh Mahura and Liam Schioler along with Vegas Golden Knights prospect Jake Leschyshyn also has a successful model to draw from as they prepare their Pats club for the Memorial Cup’s centennial celebration. The triumph of the 2017 host Windsor Spitfires is still fresh in the minds of everyone.
After a 44-day layoff, the Spitfires reported for duty and played to a perfect 4-0 record, defeating OHL champion Erie on two separate occasions including a 4-3 win in the Championship Final to become the 10th host team to win it all.
“It’s good to know it can be done,” said Steel, a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning National Junior Team in Buffalo this past January. “To see what they did in Windsor just shows us it’s possible and they aren’t the first team to do it. With that in mind we’ve stayed focused on our goal and have been working really hard to be prepared for opening night.”
The Pats will open the tournament on Friday May 18th against the winner of an OHL Championship Series between the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Hamilton Bulldogs.
Their preparation has been regimented and purposeful. John Paddock and his coaching staff have kept the players hungry as the franchise embarks on a record 16th Mastercard Memorial Cup event, chasing the club’s fifth title and first since 1974.
“Coming in we knew it was going to be a grind,” Steel continued. “We all know what we’re working towards though and that makes things a lot easier.
“Everybody that’s played for the Pats is really proud of the history and everything that goes with wearing the logo. It’s just an unbelievable franchise and we know a lot is at stake here with it being the 100th Memorial Cup.”
Like the Spitfires last spring, the Pats met their demise in a seven-game first round series, falling to the Swift Current Broncos who are currently battling the Everett Silvertips in the Rogers WHL Championship Series.
Despite outshooting the Broncos 38-21 in Game 7, the Pats fell by a score of 3-2 on the road. Key contributors in New York Rangers prospect Libor Hajek and veteran Boston Bruins draftee Jesse Gabrielle battled injury throughout the series.
“All of the guys are recovering from the bumps and bruises they took throughout the season and playoffs,” said Steel. “We’ll be a healthy squad for Game 1 on Friday.”
While Regina has a few aforementioned veterans in the lineup, coach and general manager John Paddock brought in a number of new faces over the course of the season including Hajek, Gabrielle, Montreal Canadiens prospect Cale Fleury, leading scorer Cameron Hebig, veteran goaltender Ryan Kubic as well as defending WHL champion Aaron Hyman formerly of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The defending champion Spitfires added to their group as well, achieving success with mid-season additions in Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco, winger Graham Knott and grinding energy forward Adam Laishram.
With so many new personalities added to the lineup, fourth-year Pat Jake Leschyshyn says the transition has been smooth.
“Everybody brings something to the table,” he said. “When you add the number of new guys we did as opposed to one or two, it almost makes the transition easier because everyone puts in the effort to get to know each other and make things work. We’ve got a really good group and everyone is pretty close.”
With opening night a week away, the hard work continues as the Pats look to gain an edge and be at their best when the puck drops on Friday.
“You can’t ask for much more than an opportunity,” Leschyshyn added. “This is a big one, a chance to go out and win the Memorial Cup in a very special year. It’s there for us, we’ve been putting in the work, now we have to go and get it.”