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Award Winner Cleverley Leads Blues into MJHL Playoffs

SELKIRK — Winnipeg Blues head coach Don MacGillivray couldn’t be happier for Connor Cleverley. Of course, it’s been such a good year for the Blues that MacGillivray is pretty happy about most things these days.

After a couple of rocky seasons, the Blues exploded back onto the scene in 2011-12 with a final mark of 38-24-0. That was good enough for second in the Addison and while they took an early exit in the playoffs, it was obvious that the team had been rebuilt and was getting better.

Connor Cleverley, Winnipeg Blues

Connor Cleverley, Winnipeg Blues

This season, with two games remaining, the Blues have a record of 44-13-1. They’ve wrapped up first in the Addison Division and are favored to reach the MJHL final where they are expected to play the remarkable Dauphin Kings. The Kings are 45-11-2 and have won 18 consecutive games.

However, the feel-good story on this Blues team is Cleverley. Not only was he injured last year and missed most of the season, he’s the last memnber of the Blues to have played a season in the old Century Arena.

Three years ago, the Blues moved into the shiny, new MTS Iceplex. Cleverley is the only player on this club to remember the days of the dark, dank Century Arena in Fort Garry

Playmaker Connor Cleverley.

Playmaker Connor Cleverley.

“Oh yeah, playing at Century was definitely different than playing at the IcePlex,” Cleverley said with a grin.

“But then again, I grew up in Fort Garry, played in the Twins organization, and with the Monarchs and Wild at Triple A. I went to SJR and Century Arena is part of my neighborhood. In played as a 17-year-old with the Blues at Century Arena and it meant a lot to me.

“I grew up watching the Blues at Century. It’s close to my house. Me and my dad used to go to the games after I played with the Flyers at Century. The Blues game would be on right after. We’d stick around and watch the Blues game. It means a lot to me and my family to play for the Blues and it meant a lot to play at Century Arena.”

It also meant a lot to him to have a great season as a 20-year-old. This year, he’s seventh in the MJHL in scoring with 37 goals and 30 assists. He made the MJHL all-star team and won the “Windy” Lyndon Award as the player who combines sportsmanship with hockey ability.

“I had a good season and the pucks have been going in the net,” he said. “To win an award and have the season I’ve had, it’s been really special.

“Making the all-star team is huge because it’s voted on by the coaches of the other teams. That meant a lot to me. It says a lot. Winning the trophy says I’m good for my team and I take pride in that. I don’t get a lot of penalties, don’t leave my team down a man with me in the box so it’s an important award.”

MacGillivray has been thrilled with Cleverley’s final season in the MJHL.

“Connor has had a terrific year,” MacGillivray said. “He had a tough year coming off an injury last year and for him to bounce back and have a great year this year is gratifying for him and the team. He’s been really good considering he wasn’t even sure he’d be on the team after that injury.

“He’s our only player left from my first year with the Blues and the only guy on this team to play at Century Arena. For him to have the year he’s had after being part of our team when it really went through some growing pains, is a feather in his cap and it’s been great for our team, too. I’m really pleased for Connor and he should be pleased, too.”

Cleverley leads the rush against the Selkirk Steelers.

Cleverley (9) leads the rush against the Selkirk Steelers.

What would make Cleverley very happy is a long playoff run. He knows the Blues are good enough. The team simply has to perform up to expectations.

“For sure we have a chance to win a championship,” he said. “We need to keep playing the way we’ve played all year. That’s how we end up playing at the end of the year. It’s not so much about the wins and losses but how we’re playing. If we play the game properly the wins will take care of themselves We just need to tighten up defensively and put out a good effort every night and we’ll be fine.

“We’re all looking forward to a long playoff run. We just have to get it done.

“Winning a championship would be huge for me. Especially going through the first two years like I did with the Blues. It was a rebuilding phase and there were a lot of tough nights. We weren’t very good.

“Then last year in Selkirk, I broke my elbow. It was a painful injury. I had surgery and tried to come back at the end of the year, but it wasn’t really the same.

“So I had a tough summer. I worked really hard to get in the best shape I could to bounce back and have a good final year.”

Connor Cleverley leads his Winnipeg Blues' mates into the MJHL Playoffs.

Connor Cleverley leads his Winnipeg Blues’ mates into the MJHL Playoffs.

Now, as his final MJHL season comes to a close and the playoffs begin, Cleverley is also thinking about where he’ll play next year. College is calling.

“I haven’t made a decision on my future yet,” he said. “I’m just playing it by ear. I’m going to focus on the end of the season and the playoff run and then I’ll worry about it at the end of the year.

“I’d prefer to play U.S. college but if it happens to be in Canada then so be it. I do want to play though. There is nothing better than coming to the rink every day to compete.”

(All Photos by Shawn Coates)

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