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'Resilient' Thunderbirds aim for first Memorial Cup title against powerhouse Remparts

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Jared Davidson credited his upbringing for the no-quit mentality he possesses. "For me, it goes back to just the way I was raised with my parents," said the Seattle Thunderbirds forward.
Seattle Thunderbirds forward Jared Davidson, left, and forward Dylan Guenther, right, try to get the puck past Peterborough Petes goalie Michael Simpson during first period semifinal CHL Memorial Cup hockey action in Kamloops, B.C., Friday, June 2, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Jared Davidson credited his upbringing for the no-quit mentality he possesses.

"For me, it goes back to just the way I was raised with my parents," said the Seattle Thunderbirds forward. "They gave me that no-quit mentality, no matter what I was doing.

"If it was in school, hockey or whatever sport I was playing, they didn't want me to quit. They wanted me to see it through (with) what I was doing and work hard and the outcomes will work out for themselves."

Davidson was passed on in two NHL drafts before being taken in the fifth round (130th overall) of the 2022 draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Now in his fifth season with Seattle, he gets a shot to play for the team's first Memorial Cup title as the tournament's third-leading scorer with six points (one goal, five assists).

That drive has been the calling card for a Thunderbirds squad that has pushed themselves to this point after a disappointing loss in the Western Hockey League finals last season.

"I don't know what else to say, this team is just so resilient, so great," Davidson said. "Every opportunity we've gotten, we've stepped up and played the way we needed to play."

Seattle will suit up for the final time this season on Sunday against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Quebec Remparts, who are in search of their third Memorial Cup title and first since 2006. 

The Thunderbirds fell 3-1 to the Remparts when the two last played in the round-robin stage on Monday. Since then, the WHL champs topped host Kamloops Blazers 6-1 on Wednesday to earn a semifinal berth before defeating the Ontario Hockey League champion Peterborough Petes 4-1 on Friday to make their first-ever tournament final.

Head coach Matt O'Dette credited his team's togetherness for reaching this point.

"I think team camaraderie, team chemistry, that's what keeps you going at this point of the season," he said. "We have a pretty tight team, we experienced this last year in the playoffs (when) we fought off six elimination games before ultimately, we lost in the final. 

"I think that speaks to how close your team is, you just wanna live to fight another game with your teammates. We have that again this year and it was a challenge because we've had some new faces so that was a goal of ours to develop that team chemistry which helps you in these situations."

The Remparts — who earned their final berth after the win against the Thunderbirds, the second of two consecutive victories to open the tournament — pose quite the task.

"Obviously it's a big challenge, you know, (they're a) really good team," O'Dette said. "After the first game against them, our loss, we've been working towards a second opportunity against them.

"We're here and we need to put forth a better effort."

O'Dette pointed to a number of things he looks for his team to do differently this time around.

"I thought generally, we played a pretty decent game," O'Dette said of Monday's outing. "They did an excellent job defending their net front, we didn't get inside a whole lot. 

"So that'll be something we obviously have to do. We didn't score enough, we need to get to the net front and try to create a few more chances, some traffic for the goaltender."

Davidson said Seattle's start will also be key.

"I think if we get on our path a little bit earlier, start a little bit quicker," the Edmonton native said. "They got an early one and we were chasing the game from the start.

"So coming out ready to play at the puck drop and playing our style of hockey."

Following Friday's win, O'Dette and Thunderbirds forward Kyle Crnkovic were quick to point out that the mission was not over despite helping the franchise reach a point it had never been.

The want for more is something O'Dette is relying upon from his players come Sunday.

"Losing in the (WHL) final last year, we wanted to get back here," he said. "We didn't win the championship last year, we managed to win it this year and when you have elite players, the good thing about them is they're not satisfied.

"So winning the league championship is not enough, they want the next goal, the next prize and our team's looking for that, Quebec's looking for that. There's only one team that gets to go home happy, so we're at that point right now."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2023.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press