Cap­i­tals ded­i­cate PJHL cham­pi­onship to Hum­boldt team

Regina Leader-Post - - SPORTS - mm­c­cormick@post­media.com twit­ter.com/mur­raylp MUR­RAY MCCORMICK

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.’’

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