The Steinbach Pistons have arrived in Portage La Prarie ahead of the start of the 2023 Centennial Cup tournament.
Head Coach Paul Dyck says that at the start of every year, the goal is to be on this National stage. "It's always a goal of ours going into the season. We have the Centennial Cup logo above our door as we walk out onto the ice. It's something our players have targeted since they arrived in August. We've worked towards it and the journey is always full of adversity, there are ebbs and flows in the season, ebbs and flows in the playoffs but we have arrived. Now, the next phase begins."
With there being no ice in Steinbach, the Pistons have been practicing in Niverville. Dyck says after some needed rest, the team looks revitalized and ready to go. "There's an edge to this team this year. It's been noticeable in practice since last week, there is a pace we haven't seen in quite some time. You can attribute that to being a little more rested. It's been a long time since we've had this kind of rest but there's a level of focus in the execution of the drills that things are really done with a purpose. We always hope for that but we can really tell the guys are dialing in."
The first time the Pistons went to a tournament like the Centennial Cup was in 2013 in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Dyck recalls what that was like from a coaching standpoint and what he's learned in the last decade. "I think we saturated our guys with information from our opponents and really focused primarily on what they did. On what they did well and how to combat it. It froze our group to some extent. We want our players to play freely. Yes, you have to be aware of what your opposition is going to do but I thought we were over-prepared. We gave the guys information overload and we didn't see our best until the second or third period when we just played our game. That's the biggest takeaway from that first event."
Throughout the regular season, teams and coaches see the same teams quite a bit but at an event like this where teams from across Canada will be matching up, it's quite different for the coach's preparation. "You go into a playoff series against a team like Winkler, we've played them so much, we have a pretty good idea about them," Dyck explains. "A lot of the video we prepare for the players is a refresher. Now, this is all new information that they're going to be getting on Collingwood, then Portage in game two, then Kam River and Battleford. We have to be mindful, we can't just give them an hour and a half of video and still be prepared to play our game as well. Simplicity is key. We want to execute. We want our guys to be concerned with our game. There will be in-game adjustments as well."
There will be a lot going on around the games and Dyck wants his guys to make sure they take the time to soak it all in. "It's so important to enjoy this moment, it's special. You look back and this doesn't happen every year, there are really good teams that don't make it to this stage. I want our guys to absorb it, take it all in but also understand the opportunity in front of them. We have guys who are committed but there will be guys from higher levels, NHL Gm's in the building, scouts from most NHL teams and there are still spots to be had at the NCAA-Div 1 level and U-Sport, too. This is where teams are completing their rosters for next year with 20-year-olds. Every time there's an event like this, there are guys who pop up on the radar. It's a truly great opportunity and a great tournament."
Steinbach opens the tournament Thursday, 7:30 at Stride Place against the OJHL's Collingwood Blues.