Balanced attack for Nationals

Katie Brickman
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Toronto team pushing for first title

Despite being the largest city in Canada, Toronto has never won a national midget AAA title.

The Toronto Young Nationals celebrate their victory in the Central region, which sent them to the 2014 Telus Cup, held in Moose Jaw next week. Photo courtsey of Toronto Nationals website

The Toronto Young Nationals will try to rectify that next week when they compete at the Telus Cup at Mosaic Place.

It has been 13 years since the Nationals were last at the national championship — which they won bronze at.

The Nationals were the top of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, using a 13-game unbeaten streak midway through the season, which put them into first place.

“We did finish first in the regular season, but it was very close to the second place team. We only beat them by three points,” said Brett Punchard, head coach of the Nationals.

In the playoffs, they lost just two of their 16 games to claim the league title over the North York Rangers. They then routed Markham in the Central regional semifinal and defeated Ottawa in the final to send them to Moose Jaw.

“That was the cream of the crop,” said Punchard, referring to the regional tournament.

There is only one returnee from last year for the Nationals. However, they do have seven or eight 1997-born players. Punchard believes his team has a balanced attack.

“We brought in some other ‘96s from some other teams, but we are fairly inexperienced,” he said. “We have some speed, we have some good puck movers … we have everything, I would say.”

The team doesn’t have any video on the other five teams competing, but they are focused on what they can control instead of building new systems and structure for the other teams.

“We are just trying to do our thing and hopefully our structure is good enough that it allows our kids a great chance to be do well,” said Punchard.

Kaelan O’Flynn is a defenceman on the Nationals that played with the Sault Ste. Marie North Stars last year, which hosted the Telus Cup. He has spoken to his teammates about what that experience was like.

“He was at both of these tournaments last year — Telus Cup and the Central regional tournament — so he said it was very similar to each other,” said Punchard. “Obviously, the competition is ramped up more in the Telus Cup, but the format is the same.”

The team hasn’t spoken directly about their expectations for the tournament, but teams from Ontario have had success in reaching the goal medal game — four of the last six finals have had an Ontario team competing.

“We want to put our best foot forward and show that Ontario has got some good hockey and hopefully we can get to the weekend,” said Punchard. “I think everyone will need to raise their game at this event in order for our team to be successful.”

The Nationals will arrive in Moose Jaw on Sunday and play their opening game Monday (noon, Mosaic Place) against the Prince Albert Mintos.

Follow me on Twitter @katiebrickman.

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