This year's edition of the Lethbridge Midget AAA Hurricanes seemed poised for a lengthy run, but ran into a brick wall known as the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs in the quarterfinals, falling 3-1 to the eventual tournament runners-up.
For many in Alberta's hockey world, the annual trip up to Calgary is a chance to see the future of the WHL and potentially the NHL in action. Plenty of names with Lethbridge ties have played in the Mac's, including Carter Ashton, Colton Sceviour and Luca Sbisa. But no team may have captured the attention of those in Southern Alberta like the Lethbridge Y's Men.
It all started in December 1989, when the Cinderella squad made it all the way to the Mac's final, only to lose 6-3 to Czechloslovakia's Poldi Kladno in the final at the Saddledome. The Y's Men weren't even expected to make it out of their division, according to the Lethbridge Herald. But they went 3-1 in the round robin before a quarterfinal win over St. Albert and a semi-final victory over the Calgary Buffaloes propelled them into the final.
Lethbridge-area kid Stacy Roest was the team's MVP in a losing cause, picking up two unassisted markers plus a helper on the club's other goal.
"I thought that was the year to win it," Roest told Canes This Week. "You never think you're gonna go back and get a chance to go to the finals again."
Yet that's exactly what they did. It was a rematch of the previous year's quarterfinal between the Y's Men and the St. Albert Eagle Raiders. The stars aligned for the Y's Men, who beat the heavily-favoured Notre Dame Hounds 7-1 in the quarterfinals and then edged the Calgary North Stars 4-3 to advance to the championship at the 'Dome.
Once again, Roest walked away as the Y's Men MVP for the championship, scoring the second goal of the game in a 3-2 victory over the Raiders.
"Last year, we didn't have anybody who had been in a final but this year we had six or seven guys who came back who knew what it took to get to the final because we never lost until the final last year," Roest told the Lethbridge Herald after the nailbiter.
Looking back on it, Roest thinks a tournament like that, midway through the season, is a bit of a barometre for how a team is doing.
"At that time of year, we played great as a team with strong goaltending," Roest said. "It's unreal how everything just kept going and going and going."
"To win that tournament back then it was huge," he continued. "Still is."
Now the Director of Player Development for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 43-year-old considers himself lucky to have gone to the finals at the Mac's twice, winning once.
"You go into a tournament like that and you're a little nervous because you don't know who you're playing," Roest remembered. "Which is a good thing because it keeps you honest, keeps you ready."
"I remember the coaching staff did a great job getting us ready for those tournaments," he continued. "Obviously, goaltending is huge and then just timely goals from guys and obviously your main guys have to get hot and then everybody just chips in and gets confidence."
The club benefitted from the return of Dan Faassen, who ended up as the tournament's top defenseman while goaltender Darryl Onofrychuk was named an all-star.
"Obviously you need a good start, you want a good start in those tournaments or it's over really quick," Roest concluded.
But believe it or not, Roest didn't really have high expectations going into the second Mac's tournament.
"We weren't having a very good year," he said, as the Y's Men were ranked fifth in their division heading in. "But after that tournament, we kept building and going."
As did Roest, who ended up playing five games for the Medicine Hat Tigers that season, chipping in with a goal and two assists. He would go onto spend four more seasons with the Tabbies, finishing his junior career with 141 goals and 268 assists for 409 points. Roest then went onto play 244 NHL games in Detroit and Minnesota, before heading overseas, where he would also star for and captain Team Canada at the Spengler Cup.
Now getting to work with the younger players in the Lightning system, Roest knows the learning curve from midget to junior can be big, and it's even more significant going from junior up the ranks to the NHL. Players who are used to getting big minutes are steadily seeing their playing time diminish, which can be a culture shock.
"Patience is probably a big thing," Roest said, also alluding to the hard work it takes to change mentality. "Now it's just believe in yourself, be patient and keep doing what you have to in order to be successful."
They're all lessons he learned in his time with the Y's Men at the Mac's. He believes preparation and playing as a team will help any team win the six-day hockey festival.
"I'm not sure if we were the best team, the most-skilled or had the most-dynamic players or anything," Roest recalled. "But we played as a team, we played together, got goals from everybody and it was just a good team effort."
Although the 2017 edition of the Mac's Midget Tournament is in the books, a valuable lesson for those looking to be a part of it next year and beyond.