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Kings overcome food poisoning to win 2010 Anavet Cup

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When the Dauphin Kings won the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship in 2010, it was a moment worth celebrating. After all, it had been 17 years since the Kings last won a Turnbull Cup championship.
Dauphin soon shifted its focus to their next opponent. The problem was, they did not know who exactly that opponent would be.
When the Kings won the MJHL title, Apr. 3, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League was only two games into its championship series between the Yorkton Terriers and La Ronge Ice Wolves.
With the Kings hosting the RBC Cup and having already won the MJHL crown, the winner of the SJHL would automatically qualify for the RBC Cup.
La Ronge would end up winning the SJHL championship in six games, culminating in a 3-2 overtime win, Apr. 11 in Yorkton.
As part of the preparation for the Anavet Cup, Kings head coach and general manager Marlin Murray took his players to that game in Yorkton.
“When we went down there to watch them, I think the guys’ eyes opened up, thinking, we can get this thing done,” he said.
The Anavet Cup finally got underway, Apr. 16. And, just like the MJHL final, the Kings started the series on the road in La Ronge.
With 13 days between games, Dauphin’s coaching staff was concerned about rust settling in, according to Murray.
The players had been given a few days to celebrate winning the Turnbull Cup and when they returned to the ice to begin preparing for the Anavet Cup, the team had to travel out of town for practice, because the ice in Dauphin was not available. Murray believes it was due to the annual trade fair.
So they practiced in places such as Gilbert Plains and Brandon and held a practice in Saskatoon, Sask., while traveling to La Ronge.
“We were forced out of our building, so we had to get creative,” Murray said, adding the coaches worked the players hard in practice to keep them in shape.
The long layoff showed in the team’s play in the series opener, resulting in a 5-3 La Ronge victory, Apr. 16, a Friday night.
“In game one, we weren’t terrible, but we weren’t great. We were just okay. I think it was just the new surroundings for us. It was a smaller rink and we had to adapt to that,” Murray said.
In game two the next day, the two teams exploded offensively after a scoreless first period and the game went into overtime tied 6-6.
The game eventually went to double overtime, which led Kings veteran Justin Michaud, who had not seen the ice since the second or third period, to exhort his teammates to end the game because he was hungry.
Zeanan Ziemer finally ended the game at 17:42 of the second overtime period.
Brett Willows, who had not seen a lot of playing time in the playoffs, was outstanding in game two, making 63 saves.
“Without his performance, we’re likely going back to La Ronge for games six and seven,” Murray stated.
With the game going late, the team’s post-game meal at their hotel ended up staying out until they returned after the game.
“We usually get back to our hotel room and eat around 10:30. But we didn’t get back until 12:30 or closer to one,” Murray said.
As a result, many of the players were stricken with food poisoning during the night.
Needless to say, it was a long bus ride back to Dauphin in more ways than one. Things got so bad, the bus had to stop at a hospital in Prince Albert where three players were placed on IVs.
The team finally arrived back home Sunday night and the players were reassessed the next morning.
Murray said bus driver Jim Payne became more than just a bus driver that night.
“He became part of the team and he was really close with myself. It was a real good friendship over the years with him and he was extremely patient and went the extra mile for us during that time,” he said, adding he reached out to Payne to thank him for everything following the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.
The Kings tried to push back games three, four and five to allow the team to recover, but were unable to due to a fund-raising rally scheduled by La Ronge.
The Kings were still recovering from their food poisoning when they hit the ice for game three, Tuesday in Dauphin.
Murray said it was Troy Hunter who stood up in the room to deliver a message.
“He said, ‘boys, we need to suck this up and get this done.’ It was kind of a rallying point, for sure,” he said.
As a result, the Kings won all three games at Credit Union Place, completing the series win with a decisive 6-1 victory in game five, Apr. 22. The offence continued to score and the defence came through, limiting La Ronge to just five goals in the three games after allowing 11 in the two games in La Ronge.
Hunter was a huge presence in that series, tying La Ronge’s Dan Conacher with four goals. And his line with series MVP Mitch Czibere and Cody Esposito combined for eight goals and 18 points in the five games.
“That line was phenomenal. Defensively, they went up against the other team’s top line and shut them down. They limited their top line to very few chances,” Murray said.
“And maybe the biggest contribution he had was he was just a big physical specimen in that series. He finished checks on their D-men and a couple of their D-men were banged up pretty serious just because of Troy Hunter’s physicality.”
In game three, the Kings got the job done, but they were running on fumes, Murray said. In game four, they felt a bit better.
“But game five, we were back up and running at full steam and the boys could taste it,” Murray said.
“You could just tell they were ready to go. They had that look in their eye and they wanted to party again.”
Winning the Anavet Cup was special for Murray, given how tough it is to win.
“It’s no secret that the SJHL is a heck of a league. It’s a real talented league. A league that sends teams to the RBC Cup more often that not. So we wanted to represent Manitoba real well,” he said.
“I remember finishing La Ronge off and being so proud of the guys and proud of our accomplishment. That was the second step of the three legs that we had.”
Dallas Drysdale was an 18-year-old defenceman in his second season with his hometown Kings and he remembers the scouting trip the team took to Yorkton.
“So we watched that final game and did a little bit of homework on both squads,” he said.
The rink in La Ronge reminds Drysdale of the Yellowhead Centre in Neepawa.
“So it was small and really loud,” he said.
When the Kings got back on the ice to prepare for the Anavet Cup, they skated every day. But in facing a team they had never played before, Drysdale feels the Ice Wolves caught Dauphin off guard a bit in that game one win.
Drysdale was not affected by the food poisoning until the team arrived back home.
“We made it to Prince Albert and a bunch of guys got off and got fluids. About half the bus was still alright,” he said.
“So we kept chugging along and the next thing you know it started hitting more and more fellas. On a chartered bus with one bathroom and it’s attacking guys at both ends, it was a pretty rough ride.”
But Drysdale did not feel any effects of food poisoning until he got home that night and tried to lay down.
“It hit me pretty hard,” he said, adding he went to the hospital here in Dauphin to get an IV.
When the players realized the series would not be pushed back because of the food poisoning, they used it as a rallying point.
“We got fired up and rallied around that, that they were going to try and use this food poisoning thing to get around us. But it didn’t really turn out for them,” Drysdale said.
It was an unbelievable experience to lift the Anavet Cup trophy after the final buzzer, Drysdale said.
“You’re over the moon, you’re so excited. You’re grabbing everybody, you’re yelling. You can’t even really describe it. Winning a title like that is pretty unbelievable,” he said.
While it was his last season in Dauphin, Drysdale is grateful towards Kings management for keeping him along for the ride that season instead of sending him to OCN when they acquired Ziemer at the Dec. 1 deadline. Drysdale was sent to OCN as future considerations in the offseason to complete the trade.
“For them to keep me around and go on that run was pretty special and I’ll always thank them for that,” he said, adding it meant a lot to be able to experience that season in his hometown.
“It was pretty special to be able to do it in the town I grew up in.”
The layoff before the start of the Anavet Cup allowed the Kings to heal, Czibere said.
“Those playoffs were pretty gruelling. To give the guys some time to rest and just recuperate was really nice for us,” he said.
Czibere said it was a shrewd move by Murray to take the players to game six between La Ronge and Yorkton, which kept them in hockey mode by keeping them engaged.
Czibere remembers La Ronge defenceman Dustin Stevenson, who ended up signing with the NHL’s Washington Capitals and went on to play professionally in the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
“He definitely wasn’t as mean as him, but he had a Chris Pronger look to him. He was just a big rangy guy, covered a lot of ice and had a big stick. I remember watching him and thinking, ‘if that’s who we play, I think that’s the guy we’ve got to target.’,” he said.
Czibere feels one of the reasons he was named MVP of the series was because his line was able to see a fair amount of ice, being matched up against the Ice Wolves’ top line.
“I think that line cheated a little bit, defensively to get more offence. So we were able to take advantage of that because we played a very honest game, the three of us,” he said.
Czibere finished second in team scoring in that series with two goals and nine points. Defenceman Joel Kot led all players with 11 points, including scoring the tying goal with three seconds left in regulation to send game two into overtime.
Czibere thought the MVP honour would go to Kot, who the Kings picked up at the Jan. 10 deadline.
“He was an absolute work horse. He was a great defenceman to have with us. The points don’t tell the whole story with him, as well. He played a hard game, as well. He was a physical defenceman. Super smart. He came in late and fit right into the team dynamic,” he said.
It was about 1 a.m., after the game two victory, when the food poisoning hit Czibere. And not being able to push the series back made the Kings angry, he said.
“And so we had a pretty rocking barn behind us. Especially our line, we didn’t play the most skilled game. We were pretty physical, so with the fans behind us, we got that little extra energy. And once we got that first (win), we went on a roll,” he added.
The Kings knew they would be seeing the Ice Wolves again at the RBC Cup, so they wanted to send a message in the 6-1 series-clinching victory.
“And I just remember we didn’t let off at all. And because we knew we were going to be seeing them, typically in those games, if you’re up in the third, you’ll sit back. But I remember we had the pedal to the metal,” he said.
“We were still being physical. We were still playing hard. Just to drive home that we’ll be seeing you guys in a week.”
And that fact that the Kings would have to go back to La Ronge if they lost also served as a motivator for Dauphin, he added.
“None of us wanted to do that,” Czibere said.
Aside from the satisfaction of earning their way to the RBC Cup, winning the Anavet Cup also gave the Kings some confidence heading into the national championship tournament.
“We beat good teams throughout to get there and we deserved to be there,” Czibere said.
Czibere had high praise for his billets, Rob and Karen Dreger.
“They kept four of us, including Espo and me, who were not small eaters,” he said, adding they were grateful for the Dregers putting them up.
“Because I’m pretty sure throughout that year she went through two or three beefs just keeping us fed.”

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Doug Zywina
REPORTER
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