The Dauphin Kings, one of the finest Junior A hockey teams in the country, are just two wins away from raising the Turnbull Trophy, emblematic of the championship of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Should they get the job done this coming weekend, they will be more than just deserving of the celebration.
This is a team that went on a 21-game winning streak this season, a team with the MJHL’s top defenseman, the MJHL’s most valuable player — and the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s player of the year nominee — and a team with the best rookie in the MJHL playoffs.
It has great goaltending, finished first in the Sher-Wood Division with a record of 47-13-2, plays in a beautiful arena, has 2,000 committed fans and also has the fund-raising ability required to pay for the quality scouting that makes a junior hockey club a threat to win the championship every season.
This is a team with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Turnbull Trophy Championship Series after last night’s 5-2 victory in Game 3 in Dauphin. Jesse Sinatynski scored three goals as the Kings put themselves into position to wrap up the MJHL title with two more wins over the Steinbach Pistons this weekend.
However, at the start of the season, things didn’t look so great and Kings head coach and general manager Marlin Murray was in trouble and under pressure. Of course, he’s also the first person who’ll tell you, “I was a bonehead.”
Fact is, one night last spring, he didn’t just lose his temper, he lost most of his faculties.
In a playoff game in Winnipeg last March, he was so angry at the officiating that he started firing sticks like spears at the referees. To say he was unhappy would not do justice to the term, “out of one’s mind.”
And Murray paid for his transgression. He was suspended for the first 11 games of the 2012-13 regular season and while everyone agrees that his assistant, Marc Berry, is a great young coach, the team just wasn’t responding the way Murray had hoped.
With Murray sidelined by MJHL commissioner Kim Davis, the Kings started the season 7-4-0 and were drilled 9-3 at home by the Steinbach Pistons. Passionate Dauphin fans expect nothing but the best, but for the first 11 games this season, the Kings weren’t at their best.
However, when Murray came back, the Kings started a tremendous run. They went 40-7-2 the rest of the way, dispatched good teams from Waywayseecappo and OCN in the first two rounds of the playoffs and are now on the verge of winning Murray’s second MJHL title in 10 seasons behind the bench.
All in all, it’s been a wonderful campaign, but as Murray will tell you, it sure doesn’t hurt to have good players and this edition of the Kings has a handful of the best players in Canadian Junior A hockey.
And Guillaume Naud is probably the best of the lot. This season, the 6-foot-3, 196-pound, 20-year-old from Quebec City played in all 60 of his team’s games, had 32 goals and 56 assists, finished third in scoring and was a dominant presence at both ends of the rink in every game of the season.
“I’ve been here 10 years and we’ve sent a lot of kids to the NCAA, the CIS and the pros,” Murray said. “A lot of guys, good players, have come through here. But I haven’t had anyone better than Guillaume. He is one of the best players we’ve ever had in this program. He has a big body, works extremely hard, has a great shot, skates very well and has a high hockey IQ. What makes him even better is that he’s a great teammate. He gets along with everyone and, as you know, when your best player is a good teammate, it makes for a great room.”
Murray knows how important a happy locker room can be. After all, he played three seasons with the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League before moving on to play three seasons with the Brandon University Bobcats and one more season with the University of Regina Cougars in the CIS.
For Murray, his Kings have been consistently good because the room is not only copasetic, but the best player in the league is complemented by a terrific group of teammates who don’t, in any way, have to depend on the MVP. Defenseman Tanner Butler was named the MJHL’s defenseman of the year in 2013. Forward Tanner Lomsnes was named the best rookie in the playoffs in March (which is essentially the playoffs), and forward Jesse Sinatynski led the MJHL in scoring for the second straight year with 43 goals and 50 assists while Jon Gaudet was second with 37 goals and 53 assists and Naud was third.
It also doesn’t hurt that the goaltending keeps the Kings in every game. With Jeremy Pominville (2.36 GAA) and Brian Archibald (2.44) sharing the load, the Kings had the top two goalies in the MJHL this past season.
“With Brian and Jeremy, I really believe we have the two best goalies in the league,” said Murray. “We’ve faced some great goaltenders in this league so I know how good the goaltending is in Manitoba and even with that, I’ll still say we have the best.
“It doesn’t matter which one gets the tap on the shoulder each night, the other guy is right there to support him. You don’t always get that. They both have character and they both have talent. That’s a nice combination.”
All in all, it’s a nice team. And if the Kings can seal the deal this weekend, they’ll give Manitoba a highly-competitive Western Canada Cup and RBC Cup representative. It’s likely these Kings have a lot of hockey left to play this spring.
(Photos courtesy of the Dauphin Kings)