The Powell River Regals will make their season debut Thursday when they take on the Bentley Generals in the opening game of the best-of-five McKenzie Cup series at the Red Deer Arena.
That’s correct — the B.C. reps have yet to play a single game in 2013-14, so to suggest they’ll be a threat to the Generals with no recent game experience might be a bit of a stretch. The Regals, however, wouldn’t make the trek if they felt they were merely fodder for the defending Allan Cup senior AAA hockey champions.
“Hopefully we can win, but we know it’s going to be a challenge,” said Regals president/assistant coach Tod English.
The Regals have been inactive this winter while building toward a 2014-15 season at the senior AA level. With no senior clubs operating at the AAA level in British Columbia for the current season, B.C. Hockey approached the Regals regarding the possibility of representing the province in a McKenzie Cup series, the winner of which will advance to the 2014 Allan Cup tournament April 14-19 at Dundas, Ont.
The entire series will be played at the Arena, with Thursday’s first game starting at 7:30 p.m.
With more than half of their players from out of town, the Regals haven’t been able to even practise as a team.
“We’ve had the local guys practising, but we have some guys who have played for us for eight years who don’t live here,” said English. “But we’ve always had a competitive team and we’ll just meet in Red Deer and try and pull it together.
“Talent-wise, we’re usually pretty good, but if you don’t play 30 games in a season it’s not easy. We’ll just take it one shift at a time. We have a lot of experience behind the bench and a goalie (David Brumby) who’s really experienced, a guy who’s played a lot of pro. It helps when you have that.
“Our guys will be there to compete and have fun and we’ll continue to build for next year when we’ll have a bunch of new guys and maybe take another run at it at some point.”
The Powell River franchise has won three Allan Cup championships — in 1997, 2000 and 2006 — and the current squad features players with junior A, U.S. college, Western Hockey League, minor pro and overseas experience.
Forward Jeff Lynch, a brother of former Red Deer Rebels defenceman and captain Doug Lynch, is on the roster, which also features Power River residents and Regals veterans Rick McLaren, Andrew Derton, Andy Welsh and Cleve Kinley. Kinley has minor pro experience, as has Brumby, who stopped pucks with Lethbridge, Tri-City and Regina of the WHL before playing nine seasons in the ECHL.
While the Generals are capable of overpowering opponents with their size and grit, the Regals are quite the opposite.
“We’re not real big, we’re mainly a skilled team,” said English, a former Regals player who serves as an assistant to head coach Rick Hopper. “We don’t have a bunch of gang-buster, bump-and-grind guys. We have a few guys on the point who are solid, but we’re not a team like Bentley or Stony Plain that can bump and grind.
“I think you’ll probably see more free-wheeling, high-scoring types of games.”
English knows his team will be in tough in their quest to knock off the Generals, a club the Regals last met in 2010.
“They’re national champions,” he said. “We’ve been there so we know what it takes. It takes a lot. It’s not easy to win that thing.”
Considering the Regals’ success at the national senior AAA calibre over the years, English admitted it will be difficult to drop down to the AA level next season.
“It will be tough to not be at the AAA level, but it’s better to survive than die a slow death,” he said.
The second game of the McKenzie Cup series is set for Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Game 3 will go Saturday at 3 p.m.
Fourth and fifth games, if necessary, will be played Sunday and Monday at 7:30 p.m.