The 2013-14 Manitoba Junior Hockey League season was a turbulent one for the Dauphin Kings.
As the host team for the 2014 Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup, expectations were high. But after starting the season 9-11-1, changes were needed.
“Marc (Berry, Kings assistant coach) and I were very patient with the group of guys that we put together which we thought would have a successful season. For some reason that wasn’t meant to be. We had a handful of guys in the dressing room that weren’t there for the right reasons,” said Kings coach and GM Marlin Murray.
Those players, he noted, were not there for the team identity, but for individual accolades. As a result, they did not compete at the level their coaching staff expected.
The changes which resulted was not a knee-jerk reaction, but a long-thought-out process, Murray said.
“We were 9-11 and even the nine wins that we had, there were a handful of wins in there that were ugly.
“When we were 9-11, we had a group of guys that were near the top of the scoring with our team and they were happy with that and didn’t really give a big concern about the overall record. The identity of our hockey club and the character of our hockey club in the first month-and-a-half needed to be changed and we changed it.”
It was the acquisition of veteran forwards Dylan Butler and Brent Wold from the Portage Terriers which proved to be the turning point in Dauphin’s season. The two 20-year-olds brought veteran leadership and skill to the Kings as did 20-year-old Jared Morris, who was acquired the same week..
“Wold brought a lot of respect in the league, hard work and identity that you want to be surrounded with. Butler, we knew how good he was with the puck, but we likely didn’t know how great of a player he really was until you get to see him every day,” Murray said.
Wold and Butler were just part of the changes Murray brought about. The D-corp was solidified with the acquisitions of Chandler Irvin (18), Brett Hope (20) and Ryan Cooper (20), while Jordan Valentino (20), Dillon McCombie (19) and Hudson Morrison (19) were added up front. And Murray improved the goaltending when he brought in 19-year-olds Michael Stiliadis and Jordan Piccolino.
After Wold and Butler were brought in, the Kings went 31-6-2, finishing the season with 40 wins, the third straight season they reached that plateau. And it was the third straight year they captured the Sherwood Division pennant
What surprised the Kings coaching staff was how quickly the players gelled.
“We hoped it would turn out the way it did with the quick change. But when you change out that many guys in a short period of time, sometimes it takes a month for them to get together,” Murray said.
“Fortunately for us, the skill level took over. It went from a stale atmosphere in the dressing room to a fun place to be and it just snowballed from there. The depth of our hockey club was always a key and our transition game was excellent and now we were getting good goaltending.”
Murray pointed out some of the new acquisitions would have a top six role on any other team, but are playing on the third or fourth lines with Dauphin.
“We have one common cause, we want to win. It’s a great group of guys in the room. They’re fun to coach, they’re a hard working group. And I still think that the best is yet to come,” he added.
Dauphin’s start to the playoffs was nothing short of remarkable. Not only did they sweep the OCN Blizzard, they shut them out in every game.
While the Kings respected their opponents, they could not have predicted having that kind of dominating success against the Blizzard. OCN’s chances were greatly diminished with the loss of Tyler Grove, who led the MJHL with 41 goals.
“However, they still had a lot of players who played hard. They had guys that were very, very good with the puck and you had to be aware of them,” Murray said.
The Kings kept the momentum going against the Virden Oil Capitals in the Sherwood Division final where they again swept the best-of-seven series. But the Kings fell short in the league final against the Winnipeg Blues, falling in five games.
When it comes to the Western Canada Cup, the Kings have just one goal.
“We want to win this thing,” Murray said.
The Kings will have to be at the top of their game if they wish to have any success in the tournament and Murray is confident his team will answer the challenge.
“We know nothing is going to be easy. We know the competition in the tournament is going to be top notch and we’re going to have to be at our best to play with a lot of these teams,” he said.
“I think we have the right group of guys that can get this done in a short period of time. It’s not a seven-game series, or a five-game series. You have to be better for 60 minutes on that day. And we have to prepare ourselves for that.
“Just being hosts doesn’t satisfy us. We respect the situation that we’re in. It’s an honour to be representing the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and representing the city of Dauphin. But we want to be successful in this tournament and we want to answer back for the shortfalls that we had in the final.”