STEINBACH, Man. – Monday night inside an old rink that barely holds 800 people comfortably, more than 1,400 fans jammed the place to the rafters to watch their beloved Steinbach Pistons reach the championship series of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
In Game 6 of the MJHL’s Addison Division final, Justin Augert scored twice as the Pistons beat the heavily-favored Winnipeg Blues 4-1 to reach the MJHL final after eliminating the Blues in six games.
This year, the Pistons reached the post-season for the first time in their history and so far, they’ve made the best of it.
“There hasn’t been excitement like this in our community since the days when the Steinbach Huskies were chasing down the Allan Cup,” said head coach and general manager Paul 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. The owner had all bt completely given up and Dyck had to find players wherever he could.
This year, under new ownership, the team’s executive has allowed Dyck to build a team that would make any community proud.
Of course, to be fair, it’s not like Dyck doesn’t know the game. He learned to play in Steinbach, went off and spent two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors and was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 11th round (236th overall) of 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 his coaching career as an assistant in Steinbach but when former European hockey star Richmond Gosselin from St. Malo, resigned as head coach at Christmas 2011, Dyck took over and suffered through the final half of the 2011-12 season.
This year, however, he has built a tremendous hockey team. It’s a combination of the young players that his previous group of scouts left him along with a group of veterans that includes MJHL stars 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 with a sigh. “Our guys are playing hard and they’ve bought in. The best part is that all the guys we’ve acquired from other teams have bought in, as well. Our new guys have been great, but it’s hard to forget the guys who have been here through thick and thin.
“Take a guy like Kyle Rous. He 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 of that award. He’s the kind of guy who really deserves to enjoy our good fortune.”
The good fortune has been a by-product of outstanding play up front, responsible defense and terrific goaltending. 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 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 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 and Augert (the last two MJHL players of the week), Trent Genyk and Justin Baudry – have played extremely well, the group of new 20-year-olds have made the Pistons a legitimate playoff force. 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?”