STEINBACH, Man. — Tuesday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the heavily favored Winnipeg Blues was a heartbreaker for the Steinbach Pistons.
Leading 2-0 in the championship final of the Addison Division, the Pistons got a big goal from Dustin Loeppky at 15:42 of the third period to take a 3-2 lead. It appeared as if the Pistons could hold on and take a 3-0 stranglehold in the series, but Warren Callis scored for the Blues at 19:29 of the third and then the gifted Kurt Keats scored at 5:51 of the second overtime to give the Blues a thrilling 4-3 win.
It was a tough loss for the Pistons, but hardly the end of the world. Steinbach still leads the series 2-1, they have already proven they can skate with the talented Blues and they’re heading home for Game 4 and an evening in front of a rink full to the rafters. In fact, the Smith Centre in Steinbach seats about 800, but more than 1200 crammed in for Sunday’s Game 2, a game won 6-3 by the Pistons.
“There hasn’t been excitement like this in our community since the days when the Steinbach Huskies were chasing down the Allan Cup,” said Dyck, a lifelong Steinbach resident who did spend most of his hockey career away from his hometown.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of. I remember, when I was a kid, how excited everybody got when the Huskies were winning. I get the feeling this is the same. People are really, really excited.”
Folks in Steinbach have a reason to be excited. The team’s coach and GM has done an outstanding job. Last year, the Pistons were barely dressing 14 players for their games late in the season. This year, under new ownership, the team’s executive has allowed Dyck to build a team that would make any community proud.
Of course, Dyck knows the game. He learned to play the game in Steinbach, went off and spent two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors and was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguinsion the 11th round (236th overall) in the 1991 NHL entry draft. After spending 10 seasons in the International Hockey League with Muskegon, Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit and Houston, he went off to play in Germany from 2001 until 2006.
He started out as an assistant coach in Steinbach but when Richmond Gosselin resigned as head coach at Christmas 2011, Dyck took over suffered through the final half of the 2011-12 season.
This year, however, he has built on the young players that his scouts left him and added the likes of veterans Myles Nykoluk, Richard Olson, Justin Dalebozik and goalie Corey Koop.
“It’s fun being on the other side of things for a change,” Dyck said. “Our guys are playing hard and they’ve bought in. The best part is that all the guys we’ve acquired have bought in. Our new guys have been great, but it’s to forget the guys who have been here through thick and thin.
“Kyle Rous has been here from the start and he’s really played well for us. He was player of the week last week and he was deserving. He’s the kind of guy who really deserves to enjoy our good fortune.”
The good fortune has resulted from outstanding play. At first, people felt the Pistons were just happy to be in the playoffs, considering that this was the first time they’d even reached the post-season. However, thanks to the play of 20-year-olds like goalie Corey Koop (“Corey’s just been outstanding for us,” said Dyck) and skilled forwards Dalebozik, Olson and Nykoluk, the Pistons have emerged as a legitimate threat in the playoffs.
“Nykoluk really provides us with a lot of leadership up front,” said Dyck. “And Richie is simply a competitor. He’s really scored some clutch goals for us. He loves the big moments and he’s been our clutch guy.
“There is no question that the team really believes in itself right now. Just after Christmas, these guys started to believe we could maybe finish third in the Addison Division. Then we started to believe we could win the first round of the playoffs. It’s just all come in small steps. The guys have been rewarded and as they’ve been rewarded they’ve gained a lot of confidence.”
While the team’s long-time stars – Rous, Justin Augert, Trent Genyk, Justin Baudry – have played extremely well, the group of new 20-year-olds have made the Pistons a force with which to be reckoned. Over the course of the 2012-13 season, Steinbach has been able to watch a good junior hockey team become a great one.
“The guys all said before the start of the first round, ‘Well, we’re here, why not us?’ “ said Dyck. “I guess that’s our motto. Why not us?”