The scene is beginning to reveal itself for the 2023 Centennial Cup Tournament. The Portage Terriers have been locked in since it was announced but now the rest of the nine available spots are starting to be filled.
The Battleford Northstars are Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Champions.
The Northstars swept their final series against the Flin Flon Bombers, who were the team to eliminate Battleford from the playoffs last year. Head coach Brayden Klimosko says it was satisfying to redeem themselves.
"It was really nice. It's something we remembered from the last time playing them to give our guys a little bit of extra fuel in the finals. We were ready for them."
Battleford lost their first game of the playoffs but since then, they have been on a roll. The Northstars won their next four games of the first round to finish it off in five games and swept the rest of the playoffs, ending the postseason on a twelve-game win streak.
"We just got stronger as the playoffs went along," says Klimosko. "It doesn't feel like you're on a twelve-game winning streak or anything like that. You just go play. I think the one thing you worry about is your next game and winning the next game. I thought we did a really good job of doing that."
The head coach notes the loss in the playoff opener was the reality check they needed to win it all.
"I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call but we also knew that we had to be better," Klimosko continues. "It definitely gave us a little bit of fire. It was the wake-up call we needed to know that it wasn't going to be easy and no one was going to lie down for us."
The Northstars were dominant in the regular season, ending the year with a 48-5-3 record and a goal differential of +146. The squad also was home to the league's top four scorers in Kian Bell (102 points), Holden Doell (100 points), Jake Southgate (82 points), and Steven Kesslering (69 points).
"We try to play with a lot of pace. I think we have a team that can skate with anyone," Klimosko explains. "We have a solid defence, and we try to move pucks up quick with our D-men joining in the rush. We have a solid goaltender. Anytime we make a mistake, he's there to make a big save for us."
With the team's focus now shifting toward the Centennial Cup, Klimosko outlines their plan before they head out to Portage.
"You rest some bumps and bruises. You start getting prepared. It'll come quick. We know that. But overall, this last week was mostly rest, and next week we'll get right back into it with some heavier practices. The week after that is basically a travel week."
Klimosko knows what it takes to win a Centennial Cup, as he did so in 2008 with the Humboldt Broncos, however, at that point, he was still doing the goal-scoring himself. The head coach capped off his playing career with the Centennial Cup in his hands, and he hopes to give his graduating players that same opportunity.
The Battleford Northstars will play in the opening game of the Centennial Cup Tournament against the representative from the SIJHL on May 11.