YORKTON - And they’re off.
After about 67 games this season and an unexpected early exit from the provincial playoffs, the Yorkton Parkland Mallers Midget AAA hockey club is off to Kitchener, Ont. to take on the best teams in the country in the Air Canada Cup April 21-25.
They earned the opportunity by cleaning up on the competition in the Western Regional Championships at the Parkland Agriplex this weekend. As host team the Mallers went undefeated, beating the Winnipeg Hawks 6-3 on Thursday, the Thunder Bay Kings 5-4 on Friday and the Regina Pat Canadians 5-3 on Saturday.
Amazingly, the Mallers were the only team to win one game, let alone all three, in round-robin play. The others finished with 0-1-2 records.
- Yorkton This Week 1993
And so would begin what was thought to be the final chapter of an amazing story that was the Parkland Mallers that season, a trip to the Air Canada Cup.
But now nearly three decades later the story will get a new final chapter as the team is inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame this Friday.
For local players the induction was for some unexpected and others a case of feeling the team was finally getting recognized.
“It’s pretty exciting. It seems like a lifetime ago, but it still stays in your mind,” said Neil Schell. “It’s pretty special to see us go in as a team.”
“I thought it was pretty cool to be honoured for something you did so long ago,” said Lee Rusnak, about hearing of the selection.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise. It was a unique championship especially from a smaller community like Yorkton,” offered Rob Kozak, a forward on the team.
Kozak said he has always recognized the national championship as “an accomplishment” that was special because of the high level of hockey.
It was prior to the 1992-93 season, the Mallers were selected to host the Air Canada Cup Western Regional Tournament giving them an automatic birth in the tournament.
“During the season, the Mallers finished in second place heading into playoffs. In the opening round, the Mallers quickly disposed of the Moose Jaw Warriors winning the series in two straight games of a best-of-3. In the second round, the Mallers took on the Saskatoon Blazers and were bounced from the playoffs when they lost a heartbreaking Game 5 by a score of 5-4. With the loss, the Mallers would now have to wait until they hosted the Air Canada Cup Western Regional Championships,” detailed the Hall of Fame webpage.
“At the regional tournament, the Mallers would compete against the Thunder Bay Kings (Northern Ontario), the Winnipeg Hawks (Manitoba), and the Regina Pat Canadians (Saskatchewan), who prevailed over the Blazers in the league final. The Mallers steamrolled the competition at Air Canada Cup Regionals, going a perfect 4-0. With the victory, the Mallers would now move on to the national championship.”
They weren’t expected to make the final series but they did and they would turn heads at the national event too.
At the Air Canada Cup, the Mallers (West) would compete against Les Gouverneurs de Ste-Foy (Quebec), Sault Ste. Marie Legion (Ontario), Calgary Northstars (Pacific), the Fredericton Canadiens (Atlantic), and the host Kitchener Greenshirts.
After the round-robin portion of the tournament, the Mallers would finish with a record of 2-2-1, good enough for third place and more importantly a spot in the semi-finals. This set the stage for a matchup with the Sault Ste. Marie Legion. The Mallers beat the representatives from Quebec handedly with a 4-1 victory.
And then the championship final which is still something players think about.
Kozak said a numbers of players still stay in touch because of the close bond created that season.
“You have to have that kind of bond to win the championship,” he said, adding when he looks back it was the whole road to the win that he remembers most keenly.
“Overall it was just a really good experience as a team,” he said.
Schell said come spring there is always an email of text that goes around among former teammates reliving the championship.
Rusnak said it certainly helps to have modern technology to stay connected so many years later.
“It’s so easy to stay in touch with everybody now,” he said.
The long-lasting camaraderie might have come as a result of the team needing everyone working hard as a group to succeed.
“We weren’t maybe as skilled as the best team at the tournament, but everybody played for each other,” said Schell.
“We put so much effort into it to be rewarded at the end.”
Rusnak agreed the team was a hardworking crew.
“We were kind of a blue collar team. Everybody knew what their role was and did it to the best of their ability,” he said.
It helped that a number of players had played together through Bantam, and most were drawn from the parkland area.
“We drew all our talent from this area,” said Schell.
And while many years have passed with players going on to Junior and college teams, the Mallers win stands out.
“I’ve been fortunate I’ve had a few highlights, but it’s (the championship) right up there,” said Kozak. “I’m certainly proud of that I represented Yorkton where I was born and raised.”
And for the finals story we turn back to YTW circa 1993:
It was a bizarre ending to a fairy-tale story when the Yorkton Parkland Mallers beat the Ste-Foy Gouverneurs to take the Air Canada Cup Sunday.
An overtime goal credited to Mallers forward Gary Banerd gave the rags-to-riches team the most prestigious midget hockey award in the country at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
Banerd was fishing for the puck behind the Quebec team’s net when he attempted the wraparound. Instead, the puck ended up taking a bounce off Ste-Foy’s defencemen Dominique Auger and . . . goaltender Frederic Deschenes.
As they had been doing throughout the tournament, the Mallers had to come from behind for the win in front of 1,624 fans.