By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League and Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League are combining forces this January to showcase their players to scouts – providing their best players and coaches with a platform to shine, and to test themselves against their peers.
Providing additional opportunities for players and teams has long been a tradition in the junior A ranks. This includes the recently-retired Western Canada Cup, the World Junior A Showcase, and a little event some readers might remember – the Viking Cup.
The Viking Cup was hosted in Camrose, Alta, from 1981 to 2006, bringing together some of the top non-major junior players from around the world to rural Alberta. Held every two years (except for the first two years, which were held back-to-back), the Viking Cup was a unique opportunity for players from Europe to come to North America and make a name for themselves in the early years.
Many future significant NHL players would make their mark at this event – from Petr Klima to Olli Jokinen to Dominik Hasek. There was also three years where the MJHL took part in this event.
The first time was in 1994 with the Dauphin Kings were asked to take part. The Kings would face teams such as the Russian Under 18 National Team, Mount Royal College (ACAC), as well as teams from the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and more.
The Kings, led by Lyle Stokotelny, would go on to finish second at the event, losing to the Russians in the final. They would be the only franchise to exclusively represent the MJHL at the Viking Cup.
The other two times the MJHL took part in this event was in 2000 and 2002 when the league sent their best players to take part. Dubbed the “Manitoba Pride”, the 2000 team was helped by a who’s who of MJHL coaches past and present – Jeff Wiest from the Swan Valley Stampeders, Don MacGillivray from the Portage Terriers, Ken Pearson from the Winkler Flyers, and Doug Stokes from the Winnipeg South Blues.
The roster was stacked as well, featuring goaltenders Reg Lagace (OCN), Matt Cockell (Winnipeg South Blues), and Chris Levesque (Swan Valley Stampeders – perhaps best known for his emergency call up appearance with the Vancouver Canucks).
The blueline featured Blake Forsythe and Neil Gidney from the Blues, Scott McCallum from the Dauphin Kings, Tom Plesh from the St. James Canadians, Mike Gabriel from the Stampeders, Dan Hussey from the Portage Terriers, Oliver McGee from the Winkler Flyers, and Justin Seaborg from the OCN Blizzard.
The forward group was also deep, headlined by Junior Lessard from the Portage Terriers – a future CAJHL Player of the Year. Also joining the Pride from the Terriers was Myles Kuharski.
The OCN Blizzard, in the midst of their dynasty years, sent Terence Tootoo and Tom Herman. Adam Aleshka, Matko Malbassa and Charlie Brown represented the Blues, with Curtis Campbell and Mark Odut representing the Kings. Rounding out the forwards was Norm Fay (Southeast Blades), Cory Dzikowski (St. Boniface Saints), and Joel Nedecky (St. James Canadians).
The squad ended up losing the bronze-medal game 5-4 in triple overtime to the Swedish under-18 team.
The 2002 MJHL Viking Cup squad was another collection of some of the top talent the MJHL has ever produced. This team was backstopped by OCN netminder Marc Andre Leclerc (who would win the MVP award that year), and Winkler’s Ian Vigier.
OCN was still the top team in the MJHL at this time, and they had a pair of blueliners on the squad – Garrett Hildebrandt and Alton Jackson. The Flyers also sent a pair to the tournament – Jordan Little and Steve Mullin. The other blueliners included Jearum Kurtz (St. James Canadians), Travis Wright (Portage Terriers), and Steven Later (Winnipeg South Blues).
The Blizzard also had four forwards on the Viking Cup squad, led by Justin Tetrault, Russell Spence, Mike Oulett, and Jamie Muswagon. The Stampeders sent two strong additions to the team – Mark Agnew and Justin Maier. The Neepawa Natives – shutout from the 2000 team, sent forwards T.J. Reid and Blair Adamson.
Mitch Carefoot represented the Dauphin Kings, with Steven Lajoie from the Selkirk Steelers (also shutout two years ago) also making the squad. The rest of forwards include James Marquis (Winnipeg Saints, the third team to not have a player in 2000), Russ Oldcorn (Winkler Flyers), and Scott Edwards (Portage Terriers).
This squad also lost the bronze-medal game at the Viking Cup, leaving the 1994 Dauphin Kings as the only MJHL medalists from this event.
The Viking Cup was truly a unique event, with international teams travelling to rural Alberta and having their players billeted out into homes within the community. It was a bold and interesting initiative, but eventually it gave way to rising costs and more centralized tournaments run and overseen by Hockey Canada and the CJHL.
But on three occasions, a select few MJHL players and coaches had the chance to face off against future NHL stars in Alberta. The Viking Cup – gone, but never forgotten.