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Long wait over: Saanich Predators set sights on B.C. championship

Mowat Cup tournament begins Thursday in Kimberley
Maxime Lavoie and the Saanich Predators begin play in the Mowat Cup on Thursday. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

Bill Clinton was in the White House and Jean Chretien in 24 Sussex Drive the last time the Saanich Predators won the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League championship in 1996 to advance to a B.C. championship tournament.

They weren’t even the Predators then but the Braves. And it wasn’t the B.C. Junior A Tier II Mowat Cup championship they were playing for, as they will be beginning today in ­Kimberley, but for the B.C. Junior B Cyclone Taylor Cup.

“It’s been a long haul,” said Ed Geric, majority owner of the Saanich club the past 20 years.

And a steady climb to get to with several recent-season close calls thwarted with respective Game 6 and Game 7 losses in VIJHL finals.

“We’ve knocked on the door a couple of times and finally came through it this year,” said Geric.

The Saanich franchise has produced the likes of NHLers Adam Cracknell and Matt Irwin and ended a 22-year drought in 2018 by making the VIJHL final for the first time since 1996 but lost in seven games to the Campbell River Storm. ­Saanich again came close last year, reaching the final against Oceanside, before the Generals won in six games for their first VIJHL title since 2009. Saanich finally broke the door down this spring to end a 28-year drought and lift the Brent Patterson Trophy as league champions.

“We’ve been able to spend more money on the team and get more ice time and things like that,” said Geric.

“With success comes an ­ability to recruit a higher level of player. And our coaches have such great connections in recruiting.”

Saanich head coach Cody Carlson has built up enough of those connections as a first-round WHL Prospects Draft pick who played for the Medicine Hat Tigers, Regina Pats and Prince George Cougars followed by nine seasons of pro hockey in the ECHL, Germany, Britain and France.

“We are a tight-knit group and rock solid as a team,” said Carlson.

Enough to make up for the loss of injured captain Jack Westhaver, the Jamie Benn Award Winner as VIJHL MVP, named in honour of the former Peninsula Panthers star, Olympic champion and Dallas Stars captain.

“We are the kind of team where individual success is everybody’s success,” said Carlson.

“We have a 25-player roster and a next-man-up mentality.”

The Predators look to become the seventh Island team to hoist the B.C. championship for what was the Junior B level but now labelled Junior A Tier II, following the Comox Totems in 1967, Victoria Cubs in 1971, Saanich Braves in 1976, ­Victoria Cougars in 2007, Peninsula Panthers in 2011 and Campbell River Storm in 2015.

The Junior A Tier II Mowat Cup features the champions of the VIJHL, Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and Pacific Junior Hockey League. The Mowat Cup, donated by John Mowat of Victoria and inaugurated in 1928, is being revived after years of dormancy as the VIJHL, KIJHL and PJHL moved up in labelling this season from Junior B to Junior A Tier II. The leagues previously played for the Junior B Cyclone Taylor Cup.

“The Mowat Cup has long ­symbolized Junior A hockey excellence in British Columbia,” B.C. Hockey CEO Cam Hope of Victoria said in a statement.

“It’s fitting to see its return, and we all look forward to seeing a champion hold it high in Kimberley, for the first time in several seasons.”

Saanich opens today against the KIJHL-champion ­Revelstoke Grizzlies and continues round-robin play Friday against the host Kimberley Dynamiters and Saturday against the PJHL-champion Ridge Meadows Flames. The gold- and bronze-medal games will be played Sunday.

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