‘I don’t think I’ve ever been around a dressing room like that’ Minto head coach Leonard reflects on season

Herald File Photo. The Prince Albert Mintos celebrate a goal during a home game at the Art Hauser Centre .

A first round sweep at the hands of the Regina Pat Canadians wasn’t the way the Prince Albert Mintos envisioned their season ending, but there was still plenty of positives to take away from the season as a whole.

Minto head coach Tim Leonard says this year’s team had an appetite to improve which led to the team’s winning stretch in the new year.

“We knew we were young going into it. We knew were going to have our bumps that we were going to hit, and a steep learning curve, but the kids worked hard. They wanted to get better. They bought into everything and we turned it around in January (and) February and played some really good hockey to push Regina to what we did there, with the veteran team is what they have. I’m proud of the kids. I think they did a tremendous job this year.”

During the regular season, Prince Albert finished with a record of 23-18-3, good enough for 46 points and seventh place in the Saskatchewan Male AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL) standings. But the Mintos played like a juggernaut on home ice at the Art Hauser Centre throughout the season. Including the playoffs, Prince Albert posted a record of 19-4-0 on home ice.

Leonard credits the success on home ice to the team feeling more comfortable playing at the Art Hauser.

“I think it’s just being familiar. When you have a young team, when you’re in your own rink, everybody feels a little looser. You’re familiar with the surroundings, you’re familiar with the ice surface. And I think we just we were more relaxed at home and it’s a good record that even the top teams in the league didn’t do what these kids did at home. They did a terrific job in that.”

Results were not as kind to the Mintos away from home. Including the playoff series against Regina, the Mintos posted a 4-17-3 record in games not played at the Art Hauser Centre.

Prince Albert faced stretches throughout the season where goals seemed to be near impossible to come by as the Mintos suffered six shutout losses during the regular season.

With the Mintos having several players pursue opportunities next season in both the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, Leonard says he hopes they take away lessons from the challenges the team faced during the season.

“It’s the adversity that they went through. We went through tough times where we couldn’t buy a goal and it wasn’t for a few games. It was pushing 8 to 9 games and it was tough on the kids, but they stuck with it. And that’s what I think most of them all learned that as long as you put in the work ethic, at the end of the day, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say you gave it all you got. That’s what’s going to happen at the next level with these kids are going to run into some tough times, they’re going to look back and saw how they dealt with it here.”

With a roster that featured 11 rookies, Prince Albert sported one of the younger rosters in the league. Leonard says although the team was young, they featured one of the best team atmospheres of any team he has coached.

“It was an awesome season. I loved going to the rink every day in the dressing room. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a dressing room like that.  There’s 20 kids that just meshed. They were all best friends and that was a treat. And I think that’s why with us being so young and inexperienced, we ended up doing pretty good. It’s because they stuck together, they played for each other. And it was it was just an awesome experience to be part of it.”