Snow slowly dropped down over the Fort St. John Flyers jam-packed bus providing an unceremonious send off to Terrace for the Coy Cup.
The 6:30 a.m. departure and subsequent 14-hour bus ride will give the defending B.C. provincial Senior AA hockey champions more than enough time to think about how to get the job done when the tournament starts Tuesday against the host Terrace River Kings.
“Last year when we went down we had a motto, ‘relentless’. The guys worked hard and they didn’t quit. And we need that motto again this year. Just keep working hard. Work ethic at the end of the day means a lot,” Head coach Andrew Leriger said Sunday before the team was due to leave early Monday morning.
That preparation time was also given an unwelcome extension earlier this month when it was discovered the Flyers used 26 roster players as a part of their miraculous best-of-seven series comeback over the Grimshaw Huskies in the North Peace Hockey league semi final.
The team took a week off after that announcement and Leriger said that’s all in the past now.
“The mood has been good, when we got the bad news about the league we took a week off. Recharged our batteries,” he said.
“Had some injuries that guys are dealing with and the last two weeks of practice the guys have been loose, having fun and working hard. It’s been good. The league is done with. We can’t worry about that any more. Our next goal is Terrace.”
He added that his team would undoubtedly be a target when the puck drops at the Coy Cup and that’s exactly the way they want it.
“We don’t want an easy win. If you’re going to win a championship you want to earn it. Every time you go on the ice I know that the other teams are going to want to gun for us so they’ll be at their best so we better be at our best,” Leriger said.
If the Flyers are in need of any more motivation, they should look at the regular season where they were the best team in the NPHL, outscoring opponents 102-82 over that span. And while offensively is where the Flyers dominated for most of the season, it’s not where Leriger has his team focused for the Coy Cup.
“Of course offense [is good],” he said.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what sport you play defense wins championships. Our focus is our zone, take care of our zone first and whatever happens outside of that, let it happen.”
The tournament will be a grind for the boys in blue, as they will play at least three games in three days, and as many as five in five if they make the final on March 26. If the Flyers hope to repeat, they will need to draw on their experience of multiple back-to-back games this season including a stretch where they played three in four nights against Dawson Creek in the first round of the playoffs.
“First and foremost the marathon of the tournament, five games in five nights is what I’m preparing for, that’s what our guys are preparing for,” Leriger said.
“We’ve done it for a few years. The other teams— yeah they are in a league, Terrace and Smithers but their playoffs series were best of three. Whitehorse hasn’t played a lot of games this year… I think our team is built for the marathon.”
The team is expected to have their full compliment of players in the lineup when the tournament gets underway with one big addition, the North West Hockey League MVP Cayle Bell will be joining the Flyers fold for the Coy Cup.
The Flyers opening game is at 7 p.m. in Terrace against the River Kings on Tuesday, followed by Wednesday afternoon against Smithers at 4 p.m. and Thursday against Whitehorse also at 4 p.m.