Here's my contribution to this week's edition of the Regina Pats' weekly e-newsletter. I suspect there won't be any more contributions until just before the start of the 2008/09 season.
Future looks promising for the Pats
Undoubtedly, a sense of disappointment still exists over the Regina Pats’ early exit from the WHL playoffs. The Pats, who finished atop the East Division standings in the regular season, were knocked off in six games by Swift Current in the conference quarterfinals. The abrupt ending was certainly disappointing, but shouldn’t negate the many positive steps taken during the 2007/08 campaign.
The Pats, despite having only two 20-goal scorers on the roster, still recorded 44 wins and 94 points in the regular season. Using a scoring-by-committee approach, Regina captured its first division pennant in a decade.
To generate more offense, the Pats will look to returning players like Michael MacAngus and Brett Leffler to increase their point production next season. Rookie Jordan Weal is expected to contribute immediately, after dominating the B.C. major midget league this season. And, it’s likely at least one goaltender will be traded prior to training camp for some scoring help. As it stands, returnees Linden Rowat and Jeff Bosch will be joined in a crowded crease by newcomers Damien Ketlo and Derek Tendler.
Leading the team offensively this season was second year sniper Jordan Eberle, who scored 42 goals and 75 points in 70 games. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest Eberle could pot 50 goals in his 18-year old season in 2008/09. For the third consecutive season he’ll work with a new set-up man, as centre Tim Kraus has graduated, along with fellow 20-year olds J.D. Watt and Ryan Bender.
Eberle’s disappointment in being eliminated from the playoffs was diminished somewhat by an invitation to play for Team Canada in the World under-18 championship, currently underway in Russia. When we ended the season that was a bitter disappointment but it's nice to know your hockey isn't done for the year," Eberle told the Regina Leader-Post.
Eberle is joined on the national team roster by Pats defenceman Colten Teubert, who has built a strong bond with his high-scoring teammate over the past two years. "It's always a pleasure to play with that little guy," Teubert said to the Leader-Post. "Like I always say, he'll score the goals and I'll try to keep them out of our net. I think it's the hardest thing in the world to get us apart from each other. I wouldn't be surprised if we got drafted to the same NHL team. We're always together."
Indeed, both players expect to be drafted in the first three rounds of this summer’s NHL entry draft. Some observers expect Teubert will be a first-round selection, while Eberle’s name will be called soon after, perhaps early in the second round.
In the meantime, Pats General Manager Brent Parker – who has already endorsed Head Coach Curtis Hunt for at least another season – is left to make plans for next season’s edition of the Pats. And, despite the graduation of several key performers – a list that will likely include captain Logan Pyett – Parker doesn’t believe his team will slide down the East Division standings.
"Our expectations don't change," Parker insisted to the Leader-Post. "We want to have success every year and we'll start training camp with the same intentions, to try to compete for a division championship and move forward. We'll be a little younger than we were this year. Our team speed will be a little bit better. It certainly isn't a rebuilding year -- I wouldn't look at it that way -- but it's a bit of a transition year. We have a lot of prospects that are ready to play."
Exactly how ready those prospects are, and whether the returning players can elevate their games, will determine if the 2008/09 Regina Pats will once again contend for a WHL championship. Certainly, the fans who helped set a franchise attendance record this past season expect nothing less.