The Saskatoon Blades say the upcoming Memorial Cup championship, in which the team won a berth as host club, is an opportunity to prove they are a worthy team despite a poor showing in their league playoffs.
"I think we all want to prove people wrong," Josh Nicholls told CBC News. "Obviously we've written our own kind of story here and all the negative press and all that with our poor playoffs, but I think we really want to prove to people that we are a good team and that we can win a championship."
The Blades have had a lot of time off since their shortlived playoff run.
"I think the biggest thing is just rest right now," forward Shane McColgan said. Host teams have, traditionally, fared well in the Memorial Cup, with nine wins in the last 17 tournaments.
The Blades first game is Friday against the Ontario champions, the London Knights.
The Blades entered the season with high hopes of winning the Memorial Cup on home ice.
They have been idle for 51 days since losing in the opening round of their league's playoffs.
Head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken says the pressure of hosting major junior hockey's premier tournament hung over his players all season.
"It was a different year simply because of the highs and the lows," said Molleken. The club finished the regular season with a 44-22-6 record.
"The talk at the start of the year, everything was about the Memorial Cup and maybe our focus wasn't where it should have been."
Following a two-week break after their March 27 elimination, Molleken put the Blades through more than a month of hard training.
He says they're in the best shape they've been all the season.
Team captain Brenden Walker says the players can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"It's been a long journey here for the last little bit but we're just chipping at it and it's going to be a great thing when the puck drops," Walker said. "(Losing in the first round) was a tough way to go but that's behind us and we're just moving forward and we've got a bigger goal ahead of us. We've just to make sure we're ready to go."
The Blades may draw inspiration from last season's hosts, the Shawinigan Cataracts. That club crashed out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs but managed to win the Memorial Cup, also after a long layoff.
Saskatoon will be looking to capture its first-ever CHL title.
In addition to Saskatoon and London, the Halifax Mooseheads and Portland Winterhawks play for the Memorial Cup through to May 26.
Fate of host teams in the Memorial Cup:
Hosts who won:
- 2012 — Shawinigan 2 London 1 (OT)
- 2007 — Vancouver 3 Medicine Hat 1
- 2005 — London 4 Rimouski 0
- 2004 — Kelowna 2 Gatineau 1
- 1999 — Ottawa 7 Calgary 6 (OT)
- 1997 — Hull 5 Lethbridge 1
- 1995 — Kamloops 8 Detroit 2
- 1993 — Sault Ste. Marie 4 Peterborough 2
- 1983 — Portland 8 Oshawa 3
Hosts who lost:
- 2011 — Saint John 3 Mississauga-St. Michael's 1
- 2010 — Windsor 9 Brandon 1
- 2008 — Spokane 4 Kitchener 1
- 2006 — Quebec 4 Moncton 2
- 1996 — Granby 4 Peterborough 1
- 1989 — Swift Current 4 Saskatoon 3 (OT)
- 1985 — Prince Albert 6 Shawinigan 1
- 1984 — Ottawa 7 Kitchener 2
[Source: The Canadian Press]