After weeks of beating up on each other, the Regina Pats finally have a real opponent in their sights with a name and faces they can prepare for.
The Pats have been idle since April 2, the night they were eliminated by the Swift Current Broncos in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
Six weeks later, the Broncos are the WHL champs and the Pats are well-rested, ready to compete as hosts of the Memorial Cup which begins Friday.
“I think we did it the right way, we’re all in great shape and fully prepared.” said Pats captain Sam Steel Tuesday.
Pats’ coach John Paddock said from the beginning of their hiatus that “rest is a weapon” that they fully intend to take advantage of. They used their down-time to go heavy on physical training and video to prepare, as best they could, for faceless opponents.
‘You have to step out there and execute your game plan’
Now that the lineup card is complete, with all three CHL league championships decided, the Pats can put their focus on the first game against the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
“We’ve been watching the games through this last series and even before,” said Paddock following the Pats’ practice Tuesday morning.
“Hamilton has had a heck of a run, they’re obviously at the top of their game.”
But you never fully know an opponent until you actually play them.
According to the Pats captain, there’s no time in a tournament format like the Memorial Cup for the feeling-out process you might see in a best-of-seven series.
“I don’t think you can afford to do it,” said Steel.
The Pats’ franchise player, Steel will no doubt will get special treatment against every team they face. He also learned a thing or two playing for Canada at the World Junior Championship earlier this year.
“You have to step out there and execute your game plan and the team that is just trying to feel out the other team is going to fall a step behind,” he said.
‘Every shift is so important’
Steel doesn’t agree with the notion the Pats are a step behind before the tournament even begins.
The other three teams in the tournament, Hamilton, Acadie-Bathurst and Swift Current are all league champions, riding momentum into Regina.
It may be easy for other teams, especially Hamilton and Acadie-Bathurst, to look at the Pats’ road to the Memorial Cup and their first round playoff elimination and peg them as the weak link on the schedule.
Steel hopes they do.
“We’re going to come out flying, we’ve been training for awhile. We saw with Windsor last year the exact same situation, they ended up winning it, so I highly doubt any team is going to come in and take us lightly.”
The big question mark around the Pats, who have done nothing but practice for weeks, is whether they can turn on the intensity like a light switch.
Paddock says every game is a game seven in the Memorial Cup.
So can they go from practice mode to a game seven atmosphere overnight?
“Each game and every shift is so important. Our first game is going to be so important to get our feet back under us and hit it running,” said defenceman Josh Mahura.