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Regina Pats look to retrace Windsor Spitfires’ route to Memorial Cup triumph

Canada's Sam Steel looks on during team practice at the world juniors in January. The Memorial Cup gets underway on Friday with the host Steel's Regina Pats taking on the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press

The Regina Pats don’t have to look far back to find inspiration as they enter the 100th Memorial Cup.

Regina, which was eliminated in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs by eventual champion Swift Current on April 2, opens the Canadian major junior championship on Friday against the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League.

The Pats will try to emulate what the Windsor Spitfires did last year – claiming Memorial Cup glory after being eliminated in the first round of the league playoffs. Ten host teams have won the Memorial Cup as hosts since the tournament became a four-team event in 1983.

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“Not that we had any doubt, but with Windsor winning it last year, it showed that it can be done,” Regina captain Sam Steel said Thursday. “We went through a very similar training process so it’s kind of a confidence booster knowing that.”

Regina is playing host to the Memorial Cup for a seventh time and is in its 100th season as a franchise. The Pats have won the Canadian Hockey League title four times, most recently in 1974.

The Pats have appeared at the tournament on 16 occasions – the most of any team in CHL history. The last time Regina hosted in 2001, it also lost out in the first round of the WHL playoffs.

The Spitfires fell to London in the first round of last year’s OHL playoffs, but used the long layoff to their advantage by going undefeated on home ice at last year’s Memorial Cup.

Pats head coach John Paddock said that his team had nine days off following its playoff elimination before going into a three-week period of hard skating and battling.

Paddock was also able to build off the experience of assistant coach Dave Struch, who was Saskatoon’s head coach when the Blades hosted the Memorial Cup in 2013. That Blades team also was eliminated in the opening round of the post-season.

“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way,” Paddock said about preparation plans. “We did talk to Rocky Thompson [Windsor’s head coach last season] … and Dave Struch was involved in one, but I don’t think it’s a lot different than anybody else would have done.”

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Struch said that the training routine that he helped Paddock develop is similar to what his team in Saskatoon did along with both Windsor and host Shawinigan in 2012 when the Cataractes won the title.

One of the tools involved splitting the team up during practice to reduce the time on ice.

“When I spoke to Rocky [Thompson], the biggest thing was less [ice time],” Struch said. “He did their workouts early in the morning, they didn’t overdo it as far as practice and that was it.”

Regina struggled to find its groove until the second half of the season and was boosted by a trade with Saskatoon that brought forward Cameron Hebig and goaltender Ryan Kubic to the Pats.

Hebig was second in team scoring during Regina’s brief seven-game playoff spell with six goals and two assists. Steel led the team in scoring with 11 points, including 10 assists.

Max Paddock, the head coach’s nephew, will start in net for the team’s opener against Hamilton. The 17-year-old was injured during the first round and the coach mentioned Paddock’s strong second half was a factor in his decision.

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Kubic’s play in the first round against Swift Current, however, was not an issue.

“There’s no wrong decision to make,” John Paddock said. “We feel comfortable with both goalies.”

Paddock said that he believes his team will be nervous, but doesn’t see that as a disadvantage.

“Can you be too excited? I guess you can be,” he said. “But I think one of the advantages we have is we’re playing at home.”

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