Unless you’ve been in a coma or camping out in a cave, by now you’ll have noticed the Portage Terriers are on quite the winning tear. After 32 games the ‘Dogs have amassed a staggering 30 wins, while losing only once in regulation time.
With all this winning, the natural question from any hockey fan is: “what is the league record for season wins?”
Glad you asked. Drum roll please…………..56 wins. Yup…….56 wins by the OCN Blizzard during the 2001-02 season. The club’s overall record that year was 56-5-0-3 in 64 games.
“That team was very, very special,” remembers Glen Watson, then GM/head coach of the record-setting Blizzard squad. “It was a group that didn’t like to lose. They found ways to win, they knew how to win and it was a very memorable time for all of us.”
Watson admits he’s watching the progress of the Terriers and admits, “that’s a darn good team.”
Long-time MJHL fans will remember that exceptional group. Skilled. Fast. Tough. Stingy on defence. Offensively lethal. OCN fans will remember many of the names: Starr, Muswagon, Leclerc and Spence to name but a few.
But, the record win season didn’t come without a stumble or two.
Watson believes the tone of the whole season was established very early. “The night before our first home game, a few of the guys missed curfew,” said Watson. “And these were pretty good players. Their families had come out to watch the home opener.
“I wasn’t happy when I found out what they had done. I brought them into my office at 5:30 in the afternoon and told them they weren’t dressing for the game. And I told them I wouldn’t tolerate this kind of stuff.
“I really believe that by doing this, I got my point across to the whole team that we had expectations and no one player was better than anyone. It was a real learning curve for those three players, but they responded in a positive way.”
Watsons’ message was heard throughout the room ─ team first.
Watson, who coached four seasons with OCN, was always thinking of ways to motivate his team, and deliver the message that playing junior hockey in OCN was pretty special. His job wasn’t as simple as opening and closing the gate. The group of talented players had to be handled with skill and expertise.
“A lot of people in OCN worked in the mill,” said Watson. “They would have to drive across the bridge into town every day. Hard-working people. So, in the morning, I’d have my guys run from the rink and across the bridge…..the guys had to touch a fish shack which was on the other side of the river. And then they would run back to the rink.
“The guys would be running across the bridge and cars would be honking, people would be shouting encouragement to our guys. It just reinforced to our players that playing was special and not to take it for granted.”
The Blizzard responded positively, losing just five games: defeating Kindersley in the AVAVET Cup final, and advancing to the RBC Cup tournament.
Proudly carrying the MJHL colours, OCN lost a heart-breaking championship final to host Halifax.
“Those were the days when there was no limit on dressing 20-year-old players,” says Watson. “Halifax had 19, 20-year-old guys; we had 12. It was a real tough game. It was a disappointing to lose a national championship, but we were real winners in my eyes.
“I was so proud of our guys and how they battled.”
Arguably, one of the best coaches in the history of the MJHL, for the last eight years Watson has been working in the oil field business in Grand Prairie. After leaving the Blizzard he coached a senior team out of Horse Lake First Nation, which participated in the Allen Cup tournament.
And while he’s no longer involved in the MJHL, Watson still keeps a close watch on the league.
“I always check and see what’s going on,” he says with a laugh. “Every once in a while I get an itch (to coach), but I’ve also moved on with my life.”
As for the MJHL record for wins…….the Terriers just keep moving on, too.