Capitals dedicate PJHL championship to Humboldt team
It was with heavy hearts that the Extreme Hockey Regina Capitals captured their second consecutive Prairie Junior Hockey League championship.
Regina won the championship six days after 29 people travelling with the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos were killed or injured when the team’s bus collided with a semitrailer truck en route to a playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks.
The Capitals defeated the Delisle Chiefs 7-3 on Thursday at the Al Ritchie Memorial Centre to win the best-of-seven championship series in five games.
“It was a very emotional week, that’s for sure,’’ said Capitals assistant captain Brayden Cockwill.
“There were a lot of emotions going around. It was nice to have everyone pull through and to get your mind off it. It was nice to focus on hockey and to do it for (the Broncos).’’
Regina head coach and general manager Scott Kreutzer said there was a connection between the Capitals and the Broncos, even though Humboldt plays at a higher tier of junior hockey.
“It was hard because everybody in the hockey community knows everybody and it’s a really close family,’’ Kreutzer said. “I know that Delisle had players who skated daily with the Broncos as part of their farm team. We had guys who grew up with guys who now play on Humboldt.… There were lots of ties there so it has been an emotional roller-coaster.’’
The PJHL championship series’ fourth game, scheduled for April 8, was postponed out of respect following the crash. The series resumed April 10, meaning the Capitals had to board their team bus for the first time since the Broncos’ crash and make the nearly 300-kilometre trip to Delisle.
“We did a little prayer when we got on the bus,’’ Kreutzer said. “We kept our same bus driver (Doug Callen) because he has taken us there and back all year. I think they were comfortable with him and that helped a lot.’’
Cockwill, who was named the most valuable player in the PJHL playoffs, still remembers how he felt about that first bus trip.
“There were some nerves because it sticks in your mind after everything that happened,’’ he said. “You can’t think about that too much. You had to focus on the game and have some fun.’’
The Capitals and Chiefs conducted special tributes before and after each game out of respect for the Broncos.
“Honestly, we’re still struggling with (the crash),’’ Kreutzer said. “We had a good celebration the night we won, but it was very respectful. After (Thursday ’s) game, we all came together with a moment of silence with the players. In Delisle, we had pictures after the game with both teams at centre ice as a sign of respect. Delisle turned out to be an extended family of the Capitals and it was very heartwarming,’’
The PJHL champion traditionally advances to the Keystone Cup, the western Canadian junior B championship, but that isn’t taking place this year. British Columbia and Alberta both dropped out of the championship, reportedly citing rising costs, age differences and safety as their reasons.
The PJHL pulled out of the Keystone Cup, which is April 19-22 in Thunder Bay, Ont., after B.C. and Alberta withdrew. Two representatives from Thunder Bay and two from Manitoba are competing in the 2018 Keystone Cup.
“Generally speaking, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan are the top teams and historically the teams in northern Ontario and Manitoba are a little weaker,’’ said Kreutzer. “We thought that maybe the competition wouldn’t be there without B.C. and Alberta. We felt as a league that it was probably best to opt out this year and look at it again next year.’’