WHL Cham­pi­onships re­main elu­sive for Saskatchewan teams

The Southwest Booster - - SPORTS - Ge­orge Bowditch

Saskatchewan-based teams of the West­ern Hockey League have not had a lot of luck over the past 20 years when it comes to be­com­ing WHL Cham­pi­ons let alone Memo­rial Cup Cham­pi­ons. In fact, no Saskatchewan team since the 1992-93 Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos has cap­tured the WHL Cham­pi­onship.

Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos Gen­eral Man­ager and Head Coach, Dean Chynoweth knows what it takes to win a West­ern Hockey League Cham­pi­onship. He was a mem­ber of the Medicine Hat Tigers when they won back to back WHL Cham­pi­onships and Memo­rial Cups in 1987 and 1988. He also won a Calder Cup in the Amer­i­can Hockey league.

“I don’t know if you can pin­point one thing. It is an ex­tremely tough cham­pi­onship to win. It is a grind. Un­til you have been in it and see what the sched­ule is from back to back games to not a lot of time off. You need a lit­tle bit of luck with in­juries and stay­ing healthy. You need a lit­tle bit of puck luck at times, too. You have to come through some of those games where you are not at your best. Then you throw in the Memo­rial Cup tour­na­ment which is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent for­mat and it just makes for prob­a­bly one of the tough­est cham­pi­onships to win.”

“ To pin­point one side over an­other, I don’t know if I can do that. I know in years when we won in Medicine Hat and even when I first came back coach­ing there seemed to be a lit­tle bit of dif­fer­ence from con­fer­ence to con­fer­ence of the the style of play. One side maybe be­ing a lit­tle more phys­i­cal while the other side was a lit­tle more wide open.”

“For the most part in cer­tain years it was the team that was solid de­fen­sively that gen­er­ally won. They would say that de­fenses would win cham­pi­onships.”

Things do change around as Chynoweth goes on to say.

“As of late, we have seen teams like Medicine Hat that were ex­tremely of­fen­sive that would go to the Memo­rial Cup and win the league against a very good team in the Van­cou­ver Giants few years back. You have seen Spokane win it all with a pretty po­tent of­fen­sive group that they had put to­gether and then again hav­ing a few key play­ers is very im­por­tant.”

The cap­tain of the 1998 Memo­rial Cup Cham­pion Tigers has his recipe for what is needed to make a winning team.

“ If you look at the teams over the years that, even at the Na­tional Hockey level, you need a top line cen­tre or for­ward, one or two. You need a stand­out de­fense­man and you need an all-star goalie.”

“When you go back to the Red Deer year of winning, Koote­nay when they won, they al­ways had good goal­tend­ing. They al­ways had one guy at each po­si­tion that were bet­ter than av­er­age and bet­ter than good. They were elite play­ers in the league.”

“I think when you look at Kelowna now, even up against the Cal­gary team that had some of those el­e­ments, you have guys like Tyler My­ers, Jamie Benn and Colin Long that played very well and has led the league be­fore in scor­ing and then you throw in Mark Guggen­berger who is an ex­tremely solid, tal­ented goalie. You have to have those el­e­ments to win cham­pi­onships.”

Travel in the West­ern Hockey League can be very bru­tal with long road trips and as the Bron­cos head man ex­plains this too is a fac­tor that teams have to over­come.

“Wear and tear on the body. Even the years that Koote­nay won, they played a bal­anced sched­ule they were in the Cen­tral Divi­sion of the East­ern Con­fer­ence but they played not half but a num­ber of their games within Bri­tish Columbia and Spokane to bal­ance out their sched­ule due to travel. I think all those things play in to it... from the health of the team to the travel sched­ule.”

One more key el­e­ment that will sep­a­rate win­ners from the losers is the men­tal as­pect of play­ing such a tough play­off as the teams in the West­ern Hockey League go through. It is called men­tal tough­ness.

“ The team that is most re­silient and men­tally tough. That can be the dif­fer­ence of winning one more game and one more round that could get you in to that sit­u­a­tion. That why you play the reg­u­lar sea­son in my mind. You make a big deal out of dif­fer­ent games, games against op­po­site con­fer­ence that you don’t get to see very much be­cause when you get down to the play­offs, it is. It is a grind men­tally, it can be drain­ing and tax­ing and the only way to try and pre­pare for it is reg­u­lar sea­son and mak­ing a big deal out of cer­tain games that maybe aren’t the nor­mal ri­val­ries and mak­ing a big deal out of games that are your ri­val­ries, push­ing to com­pete for the top of your con­fer­ence.”

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