By Nathan Liewicki of the Brandon Sun.
A pair of Westmanites basked in the glow of a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League championship in Flin Flon on Sunday. Both took different routes to get there.
Brandon product Brett Kitt was acquired by the Melfort Mustangs on Nov. 24. In exchange for the services of the six-foot-one left winger, Melfort sent a player development fee to the Melville Millionaires.
It proved to be a solid investment by the defending Canalta Cup champions as they won their second straight crown, beating the Flin Flon Bombers, who feature some of Kitt’s former teammates, in six games in the SJHL final. Melfort swept the La Ronge Ice Wolves in the quarter-finals before getting past the Nipawin Hawks in seven games in the semifinals.
"It was pretty cool to be able to play Flin Flon in the final and win the final game there in Flin Flon, so that was pretty sweet," the 20-year-old Kitt said. "We knew all through the playoffs that we were the ones that should win. We knew that we were the better team in all the series that we played in, so we were just really confident about the team we had."
Melville struggled out of the gate, posting an 8-14-1 record before dealing Kitt. He didn’t know where he was going to be traded, but had been approached by head coach and general manager Jamie Fiesel that a move was likely.
"We were looking like we weren’t going to do too well to finish off the season, so he started trading some of the older guys," Kitt said of Fiesel. "He told me, ‘We’re looking to trade you Kitter. Where do you kind of want to go?’"
It couldn’t have worked out any better for Kitt, who suited up for 41 games from 2013 to 2015 with the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. In 30 regular-season games with the Mustangs, he recorded five goals, seven assists and racked up 101 penalty minutes. In 11 post-season contests, Kitt has amassed two goals, four assists and 19 PIM.
His first goal of the playoffs, scored in the third period of his team’s 5-4 Game 7 win over the Hawks, proved to be the series winner.
"It was pretty exciting," he said. "At that time it didn’t look like it was going to be the game-winner. They ended up scoring a couple of quick ones after that, but it was still nice to get that one."
Boissevain’s Sam Houston also netted a goal in that game. The 19-year-old’s first-ever playoff marker opened the scoring for the Mustangs.
"We knew that we needed to move on and at that point nothing was really going in and then all of a sudden one went in and then everything started rolling," Houston said.
Houston was part of last year’s Canalta Cup-winning team, but didn’t see action in the playoffs.
This year, however, the six-foot-one defenceman has played in all 17 of Melfort’s playoff games, adding an assist to go with his goal.
"For me and Braxx George, another guy who didn’t get to play a whole lot last year, it meant a whole lot to us to be able to win it and like we said, ‘We were in our gear this time and not in our suits,’" Houston said.
"It’s a special feeling and with the group of guys we have it’s hard to explain. It’s something you get to experience once, maybe twice in your life if you’re me."
But there’s still more work to do for Houston, Kitt and the rest of their Mustang teammates. The SJHL champions are in Estevan, Sask., for the Western Canada Cup, which begins Saturday and runs through to May 8.
Melfort opens the junior A regional tournament — which also features the Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia league champions as well as the host Bruins — with a date against the MJHL and reigning RBC Cup champion Portage Terriers.
"I know a few guys on the team and I’ll give them a wink or something on the ice, but it’s jut another game when we get out there and it doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past," Houston said. "It’s a new year this year. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best."
Portage beat Melfort twice at last year’s Western Canada Cup and two more times at the RBC Cup, including a semifinal.
Count Kitt among the Mustangs stoked for the challenge of opening the Western Canada Cup against the Terriers.
"I think everyone’s really excited to be able to play Portage in the first game because it’s going to be a big test," Kitt said. "They beat out Melfort last year so a lot of the guys on this team are going to be looking to beat those guys. We want to win really bad."
The Mustangs will play the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits on Monday, the Bruins on Tuesday and finish up with a showdown against the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors on Thursday.
The top two teams from round-robin play will tangle in one RBC Cup qualifier, while the loser of that game will play the winner of a game between the third- and fourth-place teams in another qualifier.
The two qualifying team advance to the RBC Cup in Lloydminster, Alta., from May 14 to 22.
"It would be pretty unbelievable to get through the WCC and be able to go on to play in the RBC Cup," Kitt said. "I think that’s everyone’s goal to get one of the top two spots at this tournament."