Dundas, Grightmire Arena and winning Allan Cups is nothing new to South East Prairie Thunder head coach Jamie Leach.
A former Hamilton Steelhawks player who went on to play 81 NHL games with Pittsburgh, Hartford and Florida, Leach also was a member of the Iles Des Chiens North Stars that won the 2003 Allan Cup — hosted in Dundas.
Leach will just be coaching this time around, but he’s won a total of three of the national amateur hockey championships as a player and coach over the past 11 years. His last win came as coach of the very Prairie Thunder team that took the cup in 2012 over Rosetown, Sask.
“The core players are still there,” Leach said, adding Manitoba doesn’t have an AAA men’s league, so the players have the challenge of not playing much together during the year.
“But we have quite a few guys with professional experience. We just give them some guidelines on what to do.”
Chief among the team’s experienced leaders is Terry Yake, who played 403 NHL games between 1989 and 2001 with Hartford, Anaheim, Toronto, St. Louis and Washington. He scored 77 goals in that stretch, with a career best 22 goals, 31 assists and 53 points in the 1992–1993 season with Hartford. The following year he scored 21 goals and 52 points in Anaheim.
Ryan Bonni, the Thunder’s captain, is a six-foot-four defenceman with an 11-year pro career that featured a three-game stint with the Vancouver Canucks. Centre Brad Purdie was a leading scorer in German and Austrian pro leagues. Like all Allan Cup teams, the Thunder’s roster is thick with major junior, AHL and other professional experience.
“We’ve got lots of good pieces,” Leach said. “Our challenge is putting the puzzle together.”
Prairie Thunder topped Shellbrook three games to none to advance to the Allan Cup. Despite the sweep, two of the games were decided by just one goal and the final game needed overtime.
“One thing that I’ve learned, in all three Allan Cups I’ve won to date — You want that bye,” Leach said ”The extra day off is huge.”
To earn that day off before an Allan Cup semi-final, Leach and the Thunder will have to earn top spot in a division featuring the Dundas Real McCoys and Bentley Generals.