When the puck drops in game one of the Maritime Hockey League championship finals Saturday night, the Miramichi Timberwolves hope to earn their first win in what is already the best season in franchise history.
The Junior A hockey team has earned a spot in the best-of-seven finals for the first time in 17 years and will face the Truro Bearcats.
Assistant coach Carl Watters calls making it this far "a fantastic feeling," although he said it isn't a surprise for anyone who has watched the squad come together.
"It took a lot of commitment from a small group of volunteers and 23 players and a lot of hard work from our coach and [general manager] Robert MacDonald — he's kind of the architect of the team."
Fewer penalties a goal
Watters credits a new approach on the ice and some key players who were acquired through trades this season with the success of the Timberwolves, who have so far swept two series, in the playoffs.
We put a few key pieces together at the last trade deadline, and we set some goals after Christmas to become much less penalized," Watters said.
"The focus is on execution on the ice rather than trying to impress the other team or impress the fans with how tough we can be."
Watters said penalties were becoming a big problem and bringing in some new, more experienced players brought a different attitude to the dressing room.
"I'm quite impressed with their calmness and their focus and their eagerness to get on with the series."
Fans pack Miramichi arena
Waters expects that any jitters among his players will evaporate once the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Miramichi Civic Centre.
He said everyone in the region is behind the team with home crowds as big as 1,400 in the first two series and even bigger crowds expected for the finals.
Watters said every member of the team has made a contribution but he pointed to Campbell Pickard and Makail Parker from Nova Scotia as standouts.
He said Pickard has been "a rock" during the playoffs.
"He's 19 years old, he's been just a force — in my opinion his game has elevated in the playoffs, which is what you need from everybody."
Parker, he said, has been "lighting up the scoreboard" with his speed.
The only Miramichi player on the team is backup goalie Tanner Somers.
"It's unfortunate we only have one local player on our roster, but that's the nature of the game when you have to draft players," he said.
The Miramichi Timberwolves take on the Bearcats on Saturday night on home ice, with the best-of-seven series moving to Truro on Tuesday for game two.