After eight months of preparation, the Portage Terriers are ready to make their Centennial Cup debut.
The Dogs had the most time off of any team attending the Centennial Cup, due to being eliminated before the league finals. Team captain Kian Calder talks about how they've used this extended period.
"We tried to get healthy after we were eliminated there. That was the main goal right off the bat, get everyone feeling better," Calder explains. "Once everyone was feeling better, we just got better each day at practice. That was our goal, to be better each and every day. I think we've done that."
The Terriers have been adamant when saying they don't want to make any excuses for the round two loss against the Virden Oil Capitals, however, many players were battling the flu during the series and for the next week to follow.
Calder says they are very disappointed with their season's end but notes the team is still very optimistic, knowing they weren't at 100 per cent against Virden.
"I think we faced a lot of adversity in that series with the way things went," Calder continues. "Each failure is a chance to learn something. We're going in (to the Centennial Cup) with a chip on our shoulder. I think we absolutely deserve to be there. That's the belief in the locker room right now. When we're healthy, we think we're one of the top teams in Canada."
The 2022 Centennial Cup was held in Estevan, Saskatchewan, home of the Estevan Bruins, where Calder played last season. The tournament itself didn't go the way Calder and the rest of the Bruins hoped but he learned what it takes to win when the lights are the brightest.
"We got some well-needed res,t and I think we need to use that to our advantage. We have fresh legs and 24 guys that'll be ready to go every night. Guys will be battling in every shift of every game," says Calder. "I've been letting guys know what it was like and how you need to prepare yourself. It's no different than any other home game. You use the crowd to your advantage."
Centennial Cup picture day! pic.twitter.com/s9HktpPJ1n— Portage Terriers (@PortageTerriers) May 10, 2023
The Portager is expecting the local fans to show out when they take the ice.
"The first two rounds, we had a lot of people out for our games, and that was really exciting. Those games are always really fun to be a part of. I'm expecting the same from the Centennial Cup. There's a lot of buzz around town about it. I think the crowds are going to be great, and hopefully, we can put on a show for them."
During the Terriers' twelve-game playoff run, the team saw six players hit the eight-point mark. The line of Ryan Botterill, Mike Stubbs, and Austin Peters were the three leading scorers. Calder and fellow defenceman Brandon McCartney cracked eight points exactly, but the most unlikely player to contribute heavily on the stat sheet was Brenden Holba.
Holba had five goals in three assists in the playoffs, spending most of his time on the team's fourth line. During his 50 games played in the regular season, Holba scored just six goals and ended the year with 13 points. With three of his goals coming against Virden in the second round, Holba will look to stay hot throughout the Centennial Cup.
The Terriers have a plethora of veterans on this roster, with eight players in their final year of junior hockey eligibility. Being one of those 20-year-old players, Calder is looking for that storybook ending to his junior career.
"It's a really special feeling. Not a lot of guys get to go out the way they pictured it," Calder continues. "It's exciting but bittersweet for me. There's no other way I'd rather finish my career off than with a national title win. That's obviously the goal. I'm really happy to be here. It's been a great year with a great group of guys. I'm going to battle for them each and every night for my last couple of weeks of junior hockey."
Calder believes the team will be very motivated for their first game tonight against the Steinbach Pistons. The Terriers won the season series 4-2. The two MJHL teams will battle it out tonight at Stride Place, with puck drop set for 7:30.