By Jeff Dyck
Another playoff season is upon us and junior hockey fans are ready to see another five teams battle it out at the Western Canada Cup with a berth in the Royal Bank Cup tournament on the line. While the WCC continues to make a name for itself, the memories of what it replaced continue to live on. For 42 years, the best that Manitoba had to offer locked horns with the Saskatchewan champions for the ANAVET Cup, named in honour of the Army, Navy and Air Force veterans of Canada. In total, Manitoba took home 13 ANAVET Cups, the last of which occurred five years ago.
That team, the 2011 Portage Terriers, would be the last Manitoba squad to hoist the trophy. I had a chance to catch up with three members of that team and look back at that memorable season.
Brendan Harms was a 16-year-old rookie with the team that season but made quite an impact in his first year in the league. He finished with 28 goals and 63 points in 59 games and put up another 13 points in the playoffs. Harms had been a first round pick of the Terriers in the 2009 MJHL Bantam Draft and would join the team after being cut by the Brandon Wheat Kings at that year’s training camp. Head Coach Blake Spiller decided to keep the 16-year-old on the club.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for.” says the Steinbach native. “Blake is an honest hard-working, no non-sense coach. He expects every one of his players to work as hard as they can night in and night out and he tells it how it is. Every one of his teams plays a simple but effective sytle. He has a knack for getting the most out of his players and you can see that by how successful his teams are. I owe a lot to Blake for giving me the chance to play as a 16-year-old and teaching me a lot about the game.”
Harms was one of several players on the team from the Eastman region of the province. Along with Harms was his brother Tanner and Brett Adnum of Steinbach as well as the Pattyn brothers, Yvan and Stephane, from Ste. Anne.
“I think that group of Eastman guys brought a wide variety to our team that year,” says Harms. “First and foremost, all of us were good friends or knew of each other before even playing for Portage so that gave us a solid base of cohesiveness.”
In the ANAVET Cup series, the Terriers faced off with the La Ronge Ice Wolves. La Ronge had been ousted in the ANAVET Cup series the year before by Dauphin and was looking for revenge. “They were a strong group and played pretty physical and their fans were crazy. You could practically touch the ceiling while holding your hockey stick above your head and after every goal they scored fish were being thrown on the ice and beach balls were flying throughout the stands.” remembers Harms.
The Terriers would win the series in game seven on home ice at the PCU Centre. In that final game, a 4-0 victory, Harms and his brother Tanner would both find the back of the net.
“It was pretty surreal being able to play with my older brother. We are four years apart so that season was and to this day the only time we were able to play on an organized team together.” says Harms. “Being able to win the championship and both score in that game made it a cherry on top of an already awesome experience.”
One of the 20-year-olds on that team was Fort Frances, Ontario product Kyle Turgeon. Known as a defensive-minded forward, Turgeon was constantly matched up against other team’s top lines. When they prepared for La Ronge, Turgeon was given the task of helping to shut down the Ice Wolves big guns.
“I didn’t really know what to expect going in but knew that historically that everyone assumed the SJ was better then the MJ. I remember Blake giving us a scouting report and showing us the line we were gonna be matching up against. I think all 3 guys had over a 100 points on the season, and I don’t think I had a 100 points in my career,” says Turgeon. “There was definitely some nerves but we came out flying.
They weren’t overly physical which was a big change from our earlier playoff series but they were quick and highly skilled. They were an entirely different team in their own rink. The energy was that much higher and they really took it to us in their barn. We were lucky to sneak one out.”
Turgeon also tallied a goal in the game seven win in Portage.
“The last 5 minutes felt like hours but the emotions and feelings when the clock struck zero was something I will never forget.”
Another 20-year-old on that squad was Kenton Valliant. The Sudbury, Ontario native was a trade deadline acquisition, coming over from the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos. As a matter of fact, Valliant had been on the 2009 Humboldt squad that beat Portage in another memorable 7-game ANAVET Cup series. When he arrived in Portage, he got to meet the coach he had faced off with two years earlier and talks about his first impressions of Blake Spiller.
“Ruthless but very passionate about the game and his team. A few times early on in Portage, I was ready to walk out after a few encounters we had.” says Valliant. “After talking and understanding my role on the team, we were able to get on the same page and that turned out to be a very successful season.”
For Valliant, it was extra special to be an ANAVET Cup champion on both sides of the rivalry.
“Coming from the SJHL made that series very special for me. Getting traded out of the league really motivated me to want to win that series more than ever. It was a hard fought series and they played great – very happy we won though.”
While the ANAVET Cup may be relegated to history, the memories of great Manitoba-Saskatchewan match-ups live on.
These days, Brendan Harms is in his third season with the Beavers of Bemidji State University, Kyle Turgeon is attending the University of Manitoba and Kenton Valliant is pursuing an accounting career in Ottawa after graduating from Laurentian University in 2014.