REGINA — Last year's loss in the Western Hockey League final has been at the back of Regina Pats defenceman Josh Mahura's mind all season.
Now, Mahura and the Pats are one win away from capturing the Memorial Cup after a 4-2 semifinal victory Friday night against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
"I think for a lot of guys that were here last year, it literally means everything," Mahura said of reaching the Canadian major junior championship game. "We were so heartbroken last year to lose in the finals and to be back here is a surreal feeling."
Regina will now face the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Sunday and attempt to win the fifth Memorial Cup in franchise history.
Sam Steel scored the winner in the third period and Max Paddock made 44 saves for the tournament hosts. Cameron Hebig, Austin Pratt and Jake Leschyshyn, into an empty net, also scored.
Regina will try to duplicate what the Windsor Spitfires did last year and become the second straight tournament host to capture the Memorial Cup.
"Everybody is just electric right now," Paddock said. "I mean, you know, we're all pumped about the win, but I mean we got a redemption shot at Bathurst here so, we're looking forward to that too, but we're excited."
Steel teamed up with linemate Nick Henry to force a Kaden Fulcher turnover and eventually put it into the wide-open net at 14:05 of the third. Steel leads the tournament with 13 points.
There was some discussion amongst the referees as to whether a penalty should be called with Fulcher getting tangled up, but the goal stood.
"Big goal, right time," Regina head coach John Paddock said.
Fulcher made 20 saves in defeat and said that Steel's goal was one of the toughest ways to lose a game.
"It'd rather one go in from the red line, a clean shot that beat me, than something that might be considered controversial go in," he said. "I think it's one that you're always going to be wondering about and I think at the end of the day it's tough because you can't get it back.
"It's going to haunt you for awhile."
Nicolas Mattinen and Will Bitten found the back of the net for Hamilton, which won the Ontario Hockey League championship.
Much like in the tournament opener between the two teams — a 3-2 Regina win — Max Paddock was solid in net and made several key stops when he had to.
Bulldogs defenceman Riley Stillman said that his team ran into a hot goalie.
"We couldn't buy the back of the net," Stillman said.
Regina now turns its focus to the Titan for Sunday's championship game. Acadie-Bathurst held on to beat the Pats 8-6 in the round robin despite a third period comeback by Regina.
The Titan had an identical 2-1 record along with both Hamilton and the Pats after the round robin, although a higher percentage of goals-for and goals-against gave them an automatic berth in the championship game.
"I think we've got to move on from this win and focus on Sunday now," Hebig said. "We've still got work to do and it's the biggest game of all our careers. We look forward to that and one step away. So let's go get it."
Notes: Humboldt Broncos president Kevin Garinger along with the parents of late athletic therapist Dayna Brons — Lyle and Carol Brons — received a standing ovation before the game and performed the ceremonial puck drop.
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Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press