The tale of two Estevan boys and their quest for a Western Hockey League championship becomes more and more intriguing with every game they play.
Cole Fonstad, Brayden Pachal and the Prince Albert Raiders have embarked upon a banner year, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The Raiders have a 26-1 record (as of December 3rd), and sit on a 19 game winstreak. Not to mention, they've topped the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) standings for seven weeks in a row.
Pachal, wearing the Captain's 'C' in green this year and having recently notched his 200th WHL career game (against the Regina Pats on December 1st), attributes part of the success to the close knit atmosphere of the group, which translates onto the ice.
"We stick together in everything we do, and we trust in the coaching staff with our systems and everything, we're really gelling," he said, adding that his role as Captain has been a light one, "There's not much to do when you're 26 and 1. The coaches and former captains I've talked to have helped me get to this role, and I'm just starting to feel comfortable."
The 19 year old defenseman also has an offensive side to him this year, with a knack for scoring in a pinch. 6 goals, three of which are game winners, and 15 assists are given to his name.
"It feels good any time you can help your team...but I think we have a lot of guys stepping up. Our whole team, we're 26 and 1 for a reason. We've got different guys stepping up each and every game, it's a full team sport and I think our team shows that," he stated humbly, adding that it's on himself and the rest of the leadership team to ensure everyone is striving for more, to keep the momentum rolling.
"I think we just need to keep getting better. You can't really be satisfied with where you're at, because...the teams below us are going to keep better so we need to keep doing that too, in order to stay on top," added Cole Fonstad. The 18 year old forward has bounced around between Left Wing and Center duties, and as a result, his points have suffered a little. He has 7 goals and 11 assists so far on the season, after starting out on a 7 points in 10 games hotstreak.
"It's a lot different. Center is definitely a lot more tiring, you've got a lot more work down low and a lot more skating, so in the first couple games you're kind of sucking wind a little bit. Once you get used to it, it just feels like you never really stopped play it. At the start it was a little bit of a transition, but now it's not too bad," he said.
Both Fonstad and Pachal were suited up against the Tri-City Americans on November 16th. That day won't be forgotten anytime soon by the Raiders, with a rare goal from netminder Ian Scott in a 3-1 win.
"That was crazy. I was actually on the ice, so that was pretty special to be a part of. It's got to be the most rare thing I've seen in hockey. The crowd was crazy, the bench was crazy, it was a pretty cool experience," said Pachal. Meanwhile, Fonstad was on the bench for that shift.
"It was insane," he expressed with a chuckle at the memory, "Everyone just jumped and was screaming. I mean, I think it was like the third game in a row that he tried it...I think they had an empty net three games in a row and he (Scott) kept trying it. When he did that, our coach was like, 'No, don't!,', I think we were only up by one. Then it went in, and everybody just went insane, it was a pretty cool moment. Something you'll remember forever."
The southeast boys are a part of a team that is nearing the point of eclipsing a league statistic from years ago, and one that has home connections. Cracking open the WHL history books and turning to 1967, we find that the Estevan Bruins were a WHL franchise, although they share only a name and home with today's SJHL Estevan Bruins. The WHL Bruins became the New Westminister Bruins, in B.C, in 1971 and then the Kamloops Blazers ten years later. The same year the WHL team left, the SJHL team was founded in the Energy City.
Semantics aside, the 1967 Estevan Bruins launched themselves on the longest single regular season winning streak in WHL history with 22 victories, which would eventually lead to winning the President's Cup (the precursor to the Ed Chynoweth cup). The Prince Albert Raiders, with 19 straight wins, are not far off from making history, and that with two players hailing from Estevan.
"That's pretty cool, to be a part of a team like this. I've never been on a team where you can go in every night with the confidence that we have, and it's a lot of fun to be a part of. I'm pretty lucky," said Fonstad.
Both boys' eyes, along with their teammates', are fixed confidently on a WHL championship and beyond as they head into the rest of their season.