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Coral player one series away from back-to-back championships

Daniel McKitrick, 20, formerly of Coral Harbour, added another championship to his hockey resume as the Steinbach Pistons captured the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) title with a 2-1 victory over the Virden Oil Capitals in Virden, Man., on April 21.

All the scoring happened in the first 10 minutes of the game, and the Pistons put on a superb defensive display in making the 2-1 lead stand-up for 50 minutes.

Daniel McKitrick shares a moment with his mom, Leonie, and dad, Bruce, of Coral Harbour after his Steinbach Pistons captured the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship with a 2-1 victory over the Virden Oil Capitals in Virden, Man., on April 21. photos courtesy Bruce McKitrick

The Pistons are now facing the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) champion Nipiwan Hawks for the right to advance to the RBC Cup – Canada's national junior A hockey championship – in Chilliwack, B.C., from May 12 to 20.

McKitrick has now passed the 200-point mark in his junior A career, counting his regular season and playoff points.

The speedy forward said he's now totally focused on getting to the RBC Cup.

He said he's familiar with the Nipiwan Hawks, having played about 20 games against them during his time in the SJHL.

“The Hawks play a bit different game than we do,” said McKitrick. “They're a bunch of huge guys – sort of grinders – but I only watched this year's Hawks team play one time over the Internet, so I don't really know that much about them. When I played against them, they were always pretty tough and did a lot of hitting, so we'll just have to see how the series goes.”

McKitrick said it was a good feeling being on the ice with his parents and the MJHL championship trophy on April 21.

He said being in his last year of junior eligibility helps motivate him even more to reach the RBC Cup.

“There's a couple of 20-year-olds on our team and it feels like I'm playing way harder anyway knowing it's my last chance to get there,” he said. “I mean, I played hard this past year too, winning the RBC Cup with the Cobourg Cougars but this year I feel, as a 20-year-old, I'm skating really hard and focusing really hard.”

“Just playing in that tournament again, going in back-to-back, would be something else because, after the round-robin, anything can happen in one game at the RBC Cup in both the semifinal and final – and we still have to win four more games to get there – but this is a year I feel we can get it done,” he added.

McKitrick's parents, Leonie and Bruce of Coral Harbour, were happy to have made the trip to Manitoba to see their son claim the MJHL championship.

Daniel McKitrick of Coral Harbour, left, set-up Brendan Martin of Thunder Bay for the winning goal in the Steinbach Pistons 2-1 win over the Virden Oil Capitals to claim the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship in Virden, Man., on April 21.

Bruce said the final series pitting the first place Pistons against the second place Oil Capitals was an up-and-down affair.

He said things looked bleak when the Oil Capitals took an early 2-0 series lead, but Steinbach roared back with four straight wins.

“We had to make our way down there for this one in case it turned out to be his last junior A game,” said Bruce.

Bruce got to watch his son score the game winning goal in game 3 and then go on to assist on the winning goal in the championship game.

“It was awesome,” he said.

It was also nerve-wracking watching the clock for 50 minutes and waiting for the final buzzer to sound while hoping a one-goal lead would hold up, he said.

“It's fun now to rewind the game and watch it in my head, but not so much when it was actually happening,” he said.

Bruce said the atmosphere was fantastic for game 6 in the Virden arena.

He said the time spent watching the game reminded him of a Kivalliq tournament in Rankin Inlet.

“It was just like when we went to the Avataq in Rankin; being on the ice for an hour after the game with all the parents was awesome,” he said. “We won't forget the experience anytime soon, that's for sure.”