Written by Darren Zary
It's been so long that it almost feels new again for the 2015 Canalta Cup finalist Notre Dame Hounds and Melfort Mustangs.
They'll meet in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League best-of-seven final series, which begins Friday in Melfort.
This is the first time the Hounds have reached the SJHL final since 1988. That's 27 years.
Their current head coach, Clint Mylymok, was still in high school back in '88. He was a Grade 10 student in Newport Beach, California.
"It's been a while - it's good," Mylymok was saying Tuesday.
"Obviously we've got a lot of history so the alumni are popping their heads out of corners here, checking on things and seeing what's going on. It's good to get some of them back to the rink, too."
Notre Dame knocked out the Kindersley Klippers, taking their best-of-seven semifinal series in six games with a 4-3 overtime win Easter Sunday in Wilcox. For the Melfort Mustangs, it's been a 19-year wait to get back to the SJHL final for the first time since 1996.
Their current coach, Trevor Blevins, was a player on that team. Kevin Dickie was still coaching.
There were about 2,500 fans at the Northern Lights Palace on Saturday night when the Mustangs sidelined the rival Nipawin Hawks with a convincing 7-2 win.
"It feels really good," Blevins said of reaching the Canalta Cup.
"This group here has been real consistent and worked real hard all season. They come to the rink every day and they've done what it takes to win. They've been rewarded and we can't thank them enough - our 26 players in the dressing room have just been outstanding."
TOUGH SERIES - While the Notre Dame-Kindersley series started and ended with an overtime game, the Nipawin-Melfort series saw three of their five games get decided in OT.
"I knew it'd be a lot of tight games," says Blevins. "Full credit to Nipawin - their work ethic has been phenomenal for all five games. They worked real hard. It could have been a bounce either way a lot of those games, but we found ways to win. We've done that all year and we hope that continues."
League MVP Travis Mayan tallied twice in Saturday's clincher.
"It's unreal," he said of reaching the final. "It's been a long time since we (Mustangs) have been there, right? The guys pulled through and got it done. We're off to the 'ship."
Justin Boyer had a goal and three assists in Saturday's clincher.
"It means a lot, for the team and the community," said Boyer, who calls St. Louis, Sask. home. "We have a lot of support out here. We wanted to do it not only for us, our team and coaches, but, most importantly, also the fans who have been behind us all year and really showed their support (Saturday night)."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Mustangs' Tristan Frei, a 19-year-old Regina product, racked up four goals and five assists in three games last week to help Melfort eliminate rival Nipawin. D-man of the week honours go to Spencer Trapp of the Hounds. Trapp, 19, collected two goals and two assists in four games last week as the Hounds sidelined the Klippers.
Kindersley goalie Evan Weninger was named goalie of the week after stopping 109 of 118 shots for a .924 save-percentage and 2.24 goals-against average against the Hounds.
Nipawin centre Garrett Dunlop, a 19-year-old Nanaimo product, had two goals and three assists in three games against Melfort.
PLAYERS OF THE MONTH
Frei was also selected as the SJHL player of the month for March after collecting nine goals and six assists for 15 points in eight games.
Weninger (goalie of the month) and Dunlop (rookie of the month) were also duplicate winners. Weninger ended the month of March with a 5-2 record to go along with a 1.60 GAA and .948 save-percentage.
Dunlop ended the month of March with five goals and eight assists in 10 games.
Notre Dame's Austin Lightfoot, a 1994-born Assiniboia product, registered two goals and 11 through March.
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