The Cyclone Taylor Cup begins today and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks are primed to take their remarkably successful season to the next level.
The Nitehawks are brimming with confidence after winning nine of their final 10 playoff games, but are cautiously optimistic about their upcoming competition, especially when so much is riding on each game.
The KIJHL champion Nitehawks face off today in Abbotsford against the Delta Ice Hawks, the Pacific International Junior Hockey League champs. The Ice Hawks upset top seed, Richmond Sockeyes, in the semifinal before beating out the Abbotsford Pilots in six games in the final.
The Pilots, as the host team, also play in the tournament along with the Vancouver Island champion, Victoria Cougars.
The teams play each other once, with the top two teams playing in the final on Sunday.
“Every game is a seventh game,” said Nitehawk coach Terry Jones. “We’ve got to be absolutely ready to go for Game 1, like it’s the seventh game of the Castlegar series. There’s not a lot of room for error in the tournament.”
Jones last led the Nitehawks to the Cyclone in 2004 and won it in 2001.
“I think there is an understanding of how hard it is,” he said. “It’s so grueling, it’s four games in four days, and that’s tough, something these guys aren’t used to. But our approach is, it’s the same for everybody else, we’re in good shape and we feel we’re at the top of our game.”
Along with Jones, assistant coach Jeremy Cominotto played for the 2001 Nitehawk team, a squad that went 16-0 on their way to the title.
“The way that team played in ’01 compared to this team, there are some similarities, but this team is the most focused team we’ve ever had, in terms of dealing with adversity,” said Jones.
Whether it’s a bad call, an injury, or a goal, the current version of the Nitehawks seems to battle through, re-focus and rise to every occasion.
“It’s been a staple for us, I mean it’s key, and I’m hoping that it’s really going to help us when we go there,” added Jones.
Cominotto agrees, despite the unrivaled success of the 2001 squad, the 2012 team is ready and determined.
“I think we’re more prepared this time going down, maybe not with the on-ice stuff but definitely with the off-ice,” said Cominotto. “With us having to travel further than everybody else, we’re going to have to adjust and I think we’ve taken the right steps to be ready for game 1.”
The team has been led all year by the line of Chris Derochie, Ryan Edwards and Craig Martin, but the room is full of character guys, many who lead by example and others who help motivate more vocally, says Cominotto.
Assistant captain Edwards typifies the team-first attitude instilled by the coaching staff, as all three linemates came up just short of winning a scoring title.
“I wasn’t too worried about it, as long the team was doing good, that’s all I cared about,” said Edwards.
But with the final two rounds of the KIJHL playoffs lacking the intensity of the Castlegar series, the question is whether the Nitehawks can get it back if needed?
“We’re going to have to have the intensity if we want to be successful there,” said B. V. captain Chris Derochie. “I think every game’s going to be like what it was in Castlegar, with the intensity and pace, so we’ll have to be ready.”
Game 1 against Delta goes today at 3 p.m. with the Nitehawks next game at the same time Friday against Victoria and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday versus Abbotsford. The Cyclone Taylor final goes Sunday at 3 p.m.