The National Junior A Championships begin in Brooks, Alberta Saturday and the Portage Terriers are ready to go. After staying overnight in Swift Current Thursday the team arrives in Brooks this afternoon and will settle into their hotel with one goal in mind - winning it all.
It's been a very interesting season for this years squad. After going out in the first round of the playoffs in 2018 and the big announcement of Portage hosting the 2020 National event, Head Coach and GM Blake Spiller went into preparation mode. He started trading away his veterans that would not be with the team in 2020 in hopes of securing some talent that could be here for that season. This meant a very young squad and plenty of questions about how they would compete right now. The team only had a couple of veterans and the thought was even those players may be moved at some point. Before the 2018/2019 campaign began Assistant coach Paul Harland was hoping they would be competitive and make the playoffs while 18 year old forward Reilly Funk was hoping he would find somewhere to fit in.
Well they did make the playoffs. And Funk did find a place to fit in after a breakout year which included a spot on Team Canada West at the World Junior A Championships, being ranked by NHL Central Scouting and several other accolades. After flying out of the gates and the whole team chipping in, the Terriers found themselves competing for top spot early on. Spiller did make a few more trades but then started adding some pieces for this year instead of trading away his remaining veterans. When last years captian Chase Brakel returned from college at the trade deadline it looked like the team was very ready to compete. And compete they did. The battle for first place in the regular season went down to the wire with Swan Valley and Steinbach and the Terriers eventually took top spot. This meant home ice advantage all through the playoffs, something that ended up being huge. After sweeping the first two rounds against Waywayseecapo and Virden, the final was an epic 7 game battle with Swan Valley that ended on home ice with an overtime goal.
The Anavet Cup against Battlefords also came with plenty of questions. The Stars stormed through the Saskatchewan league playoffs and looked to be a powerful squad. They proved that by winning game 1 in Portage and losing the second game in overtime. The Terriers went to North Battleford tied at one game a piece and hoping they might get the series back to Portage. They didn't. Wanting to win at least one game and maybe two out of the three on the road, the Terriers instead took all three games and won the Anavet cup in North Battleford.
Fast forward to today and the Terriers are one of four regional champions joined by the host team and are competing for a National title. A title they won in 2015. A title they were hoping to win next year. A title that they may just win this year. One year early. It's a team that just keeps on winning. Is this the end of the line? Or do they have a few more wins up their sleeves? The little engine that could has one more hill to climb.
Action begins for the Terriers Saturday afternoon at 3pm against Team East, the Ottawa Junior Senators and the Terriers are hoping the Junior Senators have as much success as the NHL team they are named after had this season. Sunday night, the Dogs face the host team from Brooks - a very powerful squad that won the AJHL but lost out in the Doyle Cup to Prince George. The Terriers play that team in their last game of the Round Robin on Wednesday. The general rule is that a team can make the playoff rounds with one win in their four games but two is the number to make sure you have a spot - even though that is not a guarantee either.
All of the games will air on CFRY with the Hi-Tec Industries pre-game show 10 minutes before game time.
Listen live link, Terrier Stories and reviews of other teams on the Dog Pound Update here
packed and ready to go after practice on Thursday