The Beaver Valley Nitehawks begin the final leg of an already incredible odyssey today in Abbotsford, as they get set for their first two matches in the Western Canada Keystone Cup.
The Keystone Cup is the only piece of hardware that has eluded the Nitehawks over its 30-odd years of Junior B hockey.
“We are going there to win it, and I think the fact that no Nitehawk team has ever won it, I think these guys want to separate themselves,” said Nitehawks coach and GM Terry Jones.
The Abbotsford Pilots host the five top junior teams in Western Canada, including: from B.C.-the Nitehawks, Alberta -Blackfalds Wranglers, Saskatchewan- Saskatoon Quakers, Manitoba-Selkirk Fisherman, and Northern Ontario-the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks.
Beaver Valley opens the tournament with two games today, the first against the host Pilots at 9 a.m. and the second match at 5:15 p.m. versus the Quakers in what will be a gruelling five games in three-days round robin, culminating in the final and bronze-medal games on Sunday.
“Every year the teams vary in Junior B,” said Jones. “When we went (in 2001) a team from Saskatchewan won it, so I think it varies, but it is our backyard. I think the first day is huge and getting the first one out of the way is a big one.”
The Pilots have enjoyed a long layoff since losing to the Aldergrove Kodiaks in the semifinal of the Pacific Junior Hockey League Playoffs in five games.
The Hawks’ meanwhile are coming off victories in two intense and emotionally draining Cyclone Taylor and KIJHL championships.
“Winning the Cyclone Taylor is an enormous accomplishment, and there is very little time in between this, but in some ways it can be good and some ways it can be bad,” Jones added.
“We are still coming off it, and I know I’m feeling it. It was just an incredible amount of emotion and energy played out there. But I really think once we get down there and get going, our guys they want to win, so we’re going down there to win it, but there will be a lot of challenges.”
The Nitehawks are still a little sore from the Cyclone, particularly veteran defenceman Walker Sidoni who has been battling a high-ankle sprain all season, and was forced to sit out of the Cyclone Taylor final against Aldergrove after re-injuring it against Victoria.
The Nitehawks played Abbotsford in the 2012 Cyclone, the last time they won the KIJHL title, and lost to the Pilots 4-3. It is the only team the Hawks have played, the rest are a mystery, says Jones.
“Everybody is in the same boat and that is the only thing that we can say. We might be playing six games in four days and you know it’s ridiculous and I’d like to see the format changed but I guess it is the same for everybody, and everybody plays everybody else, but there’s not a lot of room for errors.”