Any likelihood of the St. John's Fog Devils getting a bit too big for their britches went out the window when their undefeated season ended in early January with a 6-3 loss to the Ottawa 67s in a semifinal match at the Gatineau Kiwanis major midget hockey tournament.
"When we lost, I told them at the time it might be a blessing in disguise," said St. John's coach Wally Bray.
The 67s had needed overtime to down P.E.I.'s Charlottetown Islanders in the quarter-finals, a team Bray's charges had beaten 7-1 en route to winning the Cavendish Farms Monctonian tournament in November.
"I personally feel (my team (thought) it would be a piece of cake," Bray said of the semifinal matchup with Ottawa.
"I think it opened some eyes."
"If we didn't have to lose there, we'd have gone to the Atlantics undefeated and could have lost when we really didn't want to."
The loss in Gatineau and another in the early round-robin schedule to the Halifax Titans at the Atlantic championship in Upper Tantallon, N.S., last month were the only setbacks the Fog Devils were dealt all year. The team was 23-0 in local league play and cruised to the Monctonian title undefeated.
But St. John's has a new challenge, with the Telus Cup Canadian major midget championship starting today in Levis, Que.
The 2010 tournament is the first nationals for Bray and his entire team, but the coach feels the Fog Devils' collective experience at various high-performance camps and tournaments will serve them well in Quebec.
"They've played on the mainland an awful lot since novice and they feel they really can compete. If they don't get to the crossovers Saturday, it will be a disappointment."
The Fog Devils open the tournament today against Quebec's Gaulois du College Antoine-Girouard and meet the Pacific champs from Red Deer, Alta. in their fifth game. But Bray feels it's the team's three games in between - versus the host Commandeurs de Levis, Western reps Notre Dame Hounds, and Central entry Mississauga Reps - that are the games St. John's should be favoured in.
The Commandeurs were knocked out of the Quebec major midget playdowns in the first round and Bray says the defending champion Hounds are not the same team with an injection of youth in the lineup.
Bray said the Fog Devils have an accommodating schedule with a 4:30 p.m. game on the first day which allows for some pre-scouting that morning.
"We're going to pick up what we can when we're there spectating," he said.
The Fog Devils arrive in Levis with a veteran squad. Eleven players are past their QMJHL draft year, with only Zach O'Brien and Dylan Brake selected last June.
A handful of 1993-born players such as Scott Bray, Alex Powell, Rod Mahoney, Cody Squires, Michael Cole and Andrew Sullivan were overlooked.
"I think these third years are looking to prove that, 'Guys, you missed us last year and here's what you missed.'"
Only Marcus Power and Ryan Walsh are projected by Quebec Central Scouting to be taken in the late rounds in this year's draft. Danny Phillips, 16, and Brandon Kalbfleisch and Connor Donaghey, both 15, are also eligible, but not likely to be drafted this time around.
It's the fifth time in the last decade St. John's will represent the Atlantic region. The best finish was a bronze medal in 2003.
Goaltenders: Scott Bray, Scott Walsh
Defence: Rod Mahoney, Alex Powell, Dylan Brake, John Bursey, Mike Abbott, Ryan Walsh, Trevor Forward, Brandon Kalbfleisch
Forwards: Nicholas Lindstrom, Zach O'Brien, Michael Cole, Danny Wicks, Andrew Sullivan, Robert Cahill, Dan Phillips, Marcus Power, Cody Squires, Connor Donaghey, Justin Walsh, Justin O'Rielly
Head coach: Wally Bray
Assistant coaches: Jason MacIssac, Pat O'Keefe, Charlie Quick
SCHEDULE (all times Newfoundland time)
5:30 p.m., St. John's vs Gaulois, Que.
9 p.m., St. John's vs Levis, Que.
5:30 p.m., St. John's vs Notre Dame, Sask.
5:30 p.m., St. John's vs Mississauga, Ont.
5:30 p.m., St. John's vs Red Deer, Alta.
5:30 p.m., Semifinal No. 1
9 p.m., Semifinal No. 2
11:30 a.m., Bronze-medal game
4 p.m., Gold-medal game