ESTEVAN, Sask. – As the Summerside Western Capitals (MHL) head into the final day of preliminary round play at the 2022 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, in search of a playoff berth, they can perhaps look back at the success of another team, from their storied past, for added motivation.
While the latest version of the Western Capitals requires just one point in their 12 p.m. MT meeting with the Ottawa Jr. A Senators (CCHL) at Affinity Place this afternoon, to move on, their opponent also have aspirations of their own.
An Ottawa victory, in regulation, will see them continue playing and end Summerside’s season. However, a Western Caps triumph, or any result should the contest go to overtime, or beyond, will clinch a chance for them to play on.
On the silver anniversary of their run to a national Jr. A championship 25 years ago, Summerside did it the hard way back in 1997, coming together at the right time to win it all.
The head coach of that Western Capitals squad was none other than Gerard Gallant, the current bench boss of the New York Rangers, who are currently battling the Carolina Hurricanes in the National Hockey League playoffs.
Having earlier been tabbed as the host team for the Canadian Jr. A championship in ’97, the Caps went about their business and won their division in league play with a 35-14-4-3 mark.
Gallant’s charges then disposed of the Restigouche River Rats in short order to commence the postseason.
Next came a dramatic seven-game set with provincial rival, the Charlottetown Abbies, that they also won, rallying from the three-games-to-one hole.
This put them in the Callaghan Cup final against the defending league champion Dartmouth Oland Exports.
That series also needed a full seven outings before Summerside once again came out on top.
This in turn sent the club to Brockville, Ont., for the Fred Page Cup Eastern Canadian Championship.
After two gruelling series to win in the Maritimes, the Western Capitals had a tough go of it at the FPC as they went winless with a trio of setbacks and were eliminated.
However, as hosts of the nationals, they knew their campaign was far from done.
Summerside did get off to a solid start on home ice back in May, two and a half decades ago, as they handled the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats (NOJHL) with a 5-1 decision.
From there though, they were knocked off course and suffered three-straight defeats to finish fourth in the overall standings, but still earned themselves a playoff spot.
After being thumped 8-2 by the top-seeded Weyburn Red Wings (SJHL) earlier in the five-team event, it turned out to have a different result when the two sides tangled in semifinal action.
There, Mike White was one of the heroes as his goal 10:41 into the second overtime period, lifted the Summerside to a thrilling 4-3 upset victory over the highly-touted Red Wings.
The other standout in that contest was Western Capitals’ goaltender Harlin Hayes, whose 54-save effort kept his team in it throughout before they eventually rallied from a two-goal second period deficit and come away victorious.
Taking on the No. 1 ranked team in the country, the South Surrey Eagles, in the championship game, the Caps once again found themselves down a pair early.
James Chalmers did put the home side on the board, only to see the Eagles restore the multi-marker cushion.
Undaunted, man advantage markers from White and Steve Dyer tied it entering the final frame.
There, Chalmers collected the game-winner with 7:46 remaining in regulation, much to the delight of the throng jammed into the old Cahill Stadium, to give Summerside a 4-3 victory and their first national title.
Will current Capitals’ skipper Billy McGuigan have some more ‘Maritime Magic’ in store 25 years later?
We’ll have some of the answers to that, beginning at noon MT today in Estevan.