WHL Championships remain elusive for Saskatchewan teams
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.”