Six teams are in Rosetown, SK., this week competing for the coveted Allan Cup.
Two of those teams are from Saskatchewan; the Bethune Bulldogs and the host Rosetown Red Wings. They are joined in the tourney by the Lacombe Generals from Alberta, Manitoba’s South East Prairie Thunder, Stoney Creek from Ontario, and from the Maritimes the Elsipogtog Hawks.
Both Saskatchewan teams have former Yorkton Terriers on their teams.
With the Red Wings are Nathan Lutz, who was a member of the Terriers the year the team hosted the Royal Bank Cup in 1999, Daylan Gatzke, a member of the RBC-winning edition of the Terriers in 2014, and Derek Derkatch.
Greg Coburn is the lone Terrier skating for Bethune.
In the case of Nathan Lutz it has been the proverbial long and winding road to get to the Allan Cup.
Since playing three seasons with the Terriers, ending with a semi-final loss in the RBC, Lutz, who was born and now resides at Mistatim, SK., headed to Iona College for three years, then turned pro. From 2001 until 2016 he would play for some 16 different teams spread over five leagues and four countries. Twice he would hoist a league championship, the Calder Cup with Milwaukee in the American Hockey League and the Turner Cup with Rockford in the United Hockey League.
“After I was finished in Tulsa two years ago I had a few different senior teams wanting me to play,” related Lutz in an early morning telephone interview.
But, the big rearguard said he was enjoying just being back home “doing harvest with my dad.”
Then one day the grain was all in the bin.
“After we finished harvest I was standing looking out the window wondering ‘what am I going to do?’” he said.
The Red Wings had the answer. They were already granted the championship tournament for this year’s Allan Cup, but they wanted to start putting the team together a season early. Lutz decided to take the plunge.
But why take on a two-year commitment to the Red Wings?
Lutz said he has league championship wins, “but nothing like this. A national title I’ve never won.”
The closet was the RBC run with the Terriers.
“I remember my time back in Yorkton in the semi-final, Trevor Weisgerber hit a post, or missed a wide open net,” he said, noting that would have put the Terriers in the final. Instead Charlottetown scored on “probably the worst goal Dennis Bassett ever let in,” and the national title hopes ended.
Now Lutz has another chance at a national title. At 40, he is the senior player on a senior team, so this is likely the last shot.
“I’ve been telling everybody it’s my last season for about 10 years, but this is for sure it,” he said.
Winning the Allan Cup would be a special way to go out, said Lutz noting the trophy has been competed for longer than the Stanley Cup.
The Allan Cup was donated in early 1909 by Montreal businessman and Montreal Amateur Athletic Association president Sir H. Montagu Allan to be presented to the amateur champions of Canada.
The first Allan Cup was simply presented to the Ottawa Cliffsides as champion of the league they were in (the Interprovincial League), much in the same way the first Stanley Cup was awarded to the Montreal AAA. The Cup was presented in Feb 1909 and Ottawa clinched the Inter-Provincial League title on Mar 6, 1909. On Mar 15, 1909 they lost the challenge to Queens University, thus there were two winners of the Cup in 1909 and not 1908 as it had been reported, states www.allancup.ca
Lutz said the season of preparation has helped the Wings jell into a formidable team with most players having at least Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League or Western Hockey League experience, and several with pro seasons on their resumes too, said Lutz.
Lutz, who called the first season as an opportunity to “get our beaks wet,” said the Wings would be competitive in the East Coast Hockey League, the third tier in pro hockey in North America behind the NHL and AHL.
This year the team went 20-2-2, including a 14-game winning streak, in the Allan Cup West Hockey League, a five team loop dedicated to preparing teams for the Cup. The Wings would lose a one-game playoff to Lacombe in the playoffs, but as fate sometimes does, the two teams are in the same pool for the Allan Cup.
“So we’re looking for a little revenge on them,” admitted Lutz.
After his RBC win Gatzke, from Swift Current, played with the University of Saskatchewan, then began focusing on his career away from hockey, although he has continued to play senior hockey along the way.
Gatzke said he ended up playing for Rosetown right after his university because it was a place to stay involved in the sport.
“Coming in I was just looking for some hockey to play,” he said, but when he delved into what the trophy they were pursuing was all about, it added much to the experience of the last two years. “I was really excited about the Allan Cup too,” he said.
Gatzke said the Cup has become something of a galvanizing thing for the Red Wings.
“Everyone is working for the same thing,” he said, adding the last two seasons has really brought “a great group of guys together” with a common goal of going into the Allan Cup tournament with a single, focused goal of winning it.
In Gatzke’s case he does have the experience of winning the RBC Cup as a Terrier to draw upon.
“It’s really helped me a lot winning with the Terriers in understanding the process,” he said, adding that it’s important for a team to be “as close as possible” to be prepared for a national event. That is where the last two years should be an advantage for the Wings.
Like Gatzke, Derkach, who hails originally from Ituna, didn’t pursue a career in the game after three seasons with the Terriers from 2006 to 2009, but he never left the sport either.
“I’ve played the most senior hockey on the team (Wings). This is my ninth year of senior hockey,” he said.
After his time in Yorkton Derkach moved to Yorkton and was immediately commuting to Lanigan for hockey winning the Senior ‘B’ championship in his first season, and the Senior ‘A” crown in 2015.
“Playing with Lanigan, having some success in Lanigan, earned me my spot with Rosetown,” he said.
The move to the Wings was a step up.
“This is the highest calbre of hockey I’ve ever played,” said Derkach.
Like Lutz, Derkach is excited at the prospect of playing for the Allan Cup.
“It really is my last thing on my bucket list as far as my hockey career goes,” he said.
Win, or lose, a recent job promotion will see Derkach hang up his skates, at least in terms of competitive senior hockey, after the Allan Cup. He said the Cup would be the perfect end to his career.
The trophy is such a storied one, he said, reminding former NHLers such as Ryan Smith and Theo Fleury have competed for it. He said Don Cherry talks about how the cup is “all about guys playing for the love of the game.”
Derkach said he understands that perspective.
“It really takes a special kind of dedication,” he said, adding when you play professionally you focus just on the game. “This is a working man’s league.”
Derkach said playing in a league with four Alberta teams this season the Red Wings rolled back home at 4 a.m. on several Sunday nights. He would then be up at Monday morning in time for an 8 a.m. business meeting.
When he skates off the ice after the last game with Rosetown this week Derkach said it will be a time “for pause … of reflection.”
“When I step off the ice for the final time in senior hockey I’ll be looking back at everything my mom and dad did for me, what all the hockey teams I’ve played for did for me,” he said.
“Hockey has truthfully been part of my life for the last 20 years. It’s always been part of my life,” adding it has been the foundation of his business career too; with concepts such as hard work, perseverance and teamwork are transferable from the rink to the office.
Gatzke too is thinking the tournament will be his last, noting it’s time to get down to life, with school demanding more of his attention.
“I am thinking this is my last year of competitive hockey,” he said, adding “competitive hockey comes to an end for everybody.”
Greg Coburn, from Shaunavon, SK., played with the local Terriers from 2006 until 2009, then headed to Union College followed by a short pro career than included a season in France.
“I’m considered an AP player for Bethune,” he explained. “They have put together a separate team to compete for the Allan Cup. Therefore I’ve only played a few exhibition games with the Bulldogs this year. I moved back to my hometown of Shaunavon, so I played with our local senior team here the Shaunavon Badgers.”
Coburn said there is definitely an element of juggling in terms of managing the time necessary to play senior hockey.
“Juggling life and senior hockey has been an adjustment,” he said. “Game day doesn’t revolve around just hockey anymore. I usually work a full day then rush to the rink for a senior game. It’s fun to stay competive and continue to play the game we all love.”
But then there is a goal like the Allan Cup to make the effort worthwhile.
“The Allan Cup is a prestigious tournament that has been around Canadian hockey history for a long time,” said Coburn. “I am looking forward to having the opportunity to be involved and compete for the Allan Cup championship in this historic tournament. It should a positive and fun experience.”
The Cup has been won by teams from every province and from the Yukon, as well as by two teams from the United States which played in Canadian leagues. The city with the most Allan Cup championships is Thunder Bay with 10, including four won as Port Arthur before the city’s amalgamation. The original Cup has been retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a replica is presented to the champions.
Saskatchewan has won the Allan Cup on only four occasions, the first time being the Regina Victorias in 1914. A second Regina team, the Rangers won in in 1941.
More recently the Lloydminster Border Kings won it in 2001 and 2007. Former Terriers netminder Jason Clague and defenceman Trevor Rapchalk were on the 2001 winning edition.