It’s a deeper, more experienced Dundas Real McCoys hosting this year’s Allan Cup national amateur hockey championship than the Dundas squad that hosted in 2003.
“The caliber of hockey from 2003 to 2014 is difficult to describe, because it’s so much better,” said Dundas general manager Don Robertson.
Compared to the 2003 team that was eliminated from the tournament after finishing last in the four-team round robin — the only other time the national championship was played at J.L. Grightmire Arena — the 2014 team is literally dripping with high-level players — including seven with NHL experience. But they’re not alone.
“Every team is better,” Robertson said. “It’s essentially a minor pro tournament.”
This year’s McCoys squad was built with both the Allan Cup, and the smaller Grightmire ice surface, in mind. Robertson pointed to big defencemen Matt Smith, at six-feet six-inches, 235 pounds, and Kevin Bolibruck, at six-foot one-inch, 200 pounds, as potentially significant factors for Dundas. Smith played 10 professional seasons in North America and Italy. Bolibruck played five AHL seasons, including 1998 to 2000 with the Hamilton Bulldogs before six years in Europe.
McCoys defenceman Jay McKee played 802 NHL games between 1996 and 2010 for Buffalo, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
“Defence wins at this level,” Robertson said. “That’s the toughest part. It’s more work to play defence. The challenge is, can we shut people down? We think we can. But the only team we really know is Brantford. I know Clarenville is fast. I know Bentley is big and fast.”
Dundas also brings three experienced goalies, each of whom had playing time in the Robertson Cup league playoffs. Mike Mole, Daren Machesney and Bryan Worosz all have professional backgrounds.
Up front, the Real McCoys are just as strong and experienced. Regular season scoring leaders Scott Mifsud and Cam Watson are joined by playoff leaders Nick Smith, Darryl Smith, Jason Ward, Ryan Christie and Greg Stewart.
Nick Smith and Christie both had short NHL stints in addition to OHL, AHL and professional time in Europe. Darryl Smith played Quebec Major Junior and in North American pro leagues. Mifsud was an Ontario Provincial Junior A star with Burlington and Thornhill in the late ’90s before five years at the University of Vermont and several pro seasons in Europe.
Jason Ward played 336 NHL games for Montreal, New York, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay between 1999 and 2009. Ward scored 51 goals and 126 points over two seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He was Hamilton’s leading scorer in 2002–2003 when the Bulldogs fell one game short of winning the AHL championship.
Greg Stewart played three seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs after a solid OHL career, on the way to 26 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens.
The only injury hanging over Dundas as of last week was to former NHL player Matthew Barnaby, veteran of 834 games mostly with Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and New York Rangers. It wasn’t clear 10 days before the Allan Cup whether Barnaby would play or not.
“We’re very deep. We’ve got lots of options,” Robertson said. “We’ve got all the ingredients. We just don’t know if it’s going to taste as good as we hope when it comes out of the pot.”
Dundas has never advanced to the championship game in four Allan Cup appearances. The Real McCoys lost the 2011 semi-final to Newfoundland and the 2008 semi-final to the Brantford Blast. A trip to the final on home ice would be sweet; a chance to top Brantford for the Allan Cup would be something else.
“I’d like to face anyone in the championship. But if it’s Dundas-Brantford, people will be scalping tickets,” Robertson said.