Mintos eager to take on the best

The Prince Albert Mintos celebrate first period goal from Ty Bahm at the Art Hauser Centre on Sunday, Dec. 15. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

For the first time since the 2017-18 season, the Prince Albert Mintos are back in the Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament.

They couldn’t be happier about it either.

The Mintos will join the Calgary Buffaloes, Lethbridge Midget AAA Hurricanes, Sherwood Park Ennis Kings and AK Bars Academy in Pool 1 when the tournament opens after Christmas in Calgary. For the players, it’s a chance to measure themselves against the top programs from around the world, and they’re eagerly awaiting the opportunity.

“It’s my first time going there and I’m very excited,” forward Austin McLean said. “It’s going to be a great experience. I’m just looking forward to it.”

Attending such a prestigious tournament isn’t the only reason for excitement. After dealing with a changing lineup due to injuries and WHL call-ups, the Mintos are starting to gel as a cohesive unit. Coach Danton Danielson said he’s hoping to see more of that in Calgary.

“We haven’t really had a lot of opportunity yet this year to really gel as a full complete team, so I think it will be good to get some games in,” Danielson said. “A large number of games in a short period of time is always good.”

The Mintos went 2-2 during the ’17-18 tournament and just missed qualifying for the playoffs. This season, they’ll face stiff competition from the Calgary Buffaloes, who sit second in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League standings with a 16-4-2 record, and Russia-based AK Bars Academy.

The remaining pool members also come from the Alberta Midget AAA ranks. Lethbridge sits fourth in the Chrysler Division with a 12-8-1 record, while Sherwood Park sits fifth in the Dodge Division with a record of 6-11-5.

“When you’re playing a short-term competition like that, a lot of it comes down to will and who’s willing to grind it out,” Danielson said. “You get tired. You have bumps and bruises. We’re going to play four games in four days to start the tournament for us, and there’s not a lot of rest in there, and so it ends up being a bit of a war of attrition. You want to make sure you can grind it out and be mentally strong.”

While the club is eager to be back in the tournament, the coaching staff has worked hard to make sure the players focus on what’s in front of them. Speaking prior to their final regular season game before the Christmas break, Danielson said they haven’t talked about the tournament much since being invited.

Instead, the focus was on their final two games against the Battlefords Stars and Tisdale Trojans.

“We want to go into that tournament with a little bit of a (winning) streak here, and make sure that we pick up those two points that we need to,” Danielson explained.

The 2019 Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament features 25 teams from across Canada, the United States and Europe. It runs from Dec. 26 to Jan 1.

The Mintos start the tournament on Friday, Dec. 23 against Sherwood Park. Puck drop is 11:45 a.m.