By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
You could say parts of this season by the OCN Blizzard resemble that fictional season by the Charlestown Chiefs in the classic hockey movie Slapshot. A team finds out midway through the season that this would be their last, followed by a memorable finish to the season and a trip to the league championship.
The December announcement that the Blizzard would fold stunned the hockey world. Of course, OCN already thankfully knows they will be around next year as a plan was put in place to save the team.
And just like the movie, the Blizzard have punched their ticket into the MJHL final with a dominating 8-1 record through the first two rounds – dispatching Winnipeg and Winkler in the process.
Head coach Doug Hedley said the Blizzard had high expectations for these playoffs, but admits the 8-1 record thus far is a bit of a surprise.
“We wanted to have our opportunity in these playoffs, but (going 8-1) was not something we expected,” he said.
Hedley says his players are all on the same page, noting they have gone through some difficult times together.
“When you look back to our difficult schedule with 17 straight road games (in November and December), we came out of that believing in each other,” said Hedley.
“Success is easy to sell, but it’s harder to get the buy in, and this group wants to go a long way – they’re one of the best I’ve ever had.”
The Blizzard also seem to be feeding off the energy from the community. Crowds are starting to swell to numbers not seen since their glory days in the early 2000s. Thursday’s elimination Game 4 contest attracted more than 1,000 fans.
“Winning does that, but when you look at what’s happened since the announcement in December, it’s amazing,” said Hedley. The veteran MJHL coach believes the Blizzard organization went through a real trial by fire situation, and feels they have the potential to be stronger than ever.
“(The announcement the Blizzard would be folding) came out, and suddenly it’s all over the news,” he said. “There was a lot of damage control by the board and the coaching staff, reaching out to parents of kids who are listed – it was a real surprise because it happened so fast.
“But at the same time, the players knew all we could control was the way we played on the ice, and if this happened to be our last season, leave it all on the ice.”
The team learned before the end of the regular season that they would be returning, putting the fan’s focus back on the on-ice product.
Still, the work continues to solidify the Blizzard franchise, and amid a stellar playoff run, Hedley says you can’t help but notice how fans, businesses and even other communities are rallying around the team.
“We’re getting support from the Northern Bands and communities, people from The Pas are behind us, businesses are behind us – and I really think the organization is going to end up being stronger in the future,” he said. “We’re getting business people involved, and the team is going to be sustainable, and I see a bright future for the Blizzard.”