Lifting the Memorial Cup in front of his hometown fans would be a dream come true for Kamloops Blazers star Logan Stankoven.
The 20-year-old centre leads his Blazers into the four-team Canadian major junior championship on Friday. Kamloops fell in the Western Hockey League's Western Conference final to the eventual champion Seattle Thunderbirds in six games on May 8, but as Memorial Cup hosts the Blazers get a second chance to win it all.
"Would be pretty surreal," Stankoven told The Canadian Press. "It would be a nice way to kind of cap things off.
"Probably my last year here, so to do it in front of friends and family and the fans are the best in the league. We've been getting really good crowds all playoffs and all season long, so it'd be nice to win that for them and for the city, it'd be quite the buzz around here."
Kamloops opens the Memorial Cup against Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Quebec Remparts on Friday. Along with Seattle, the Ontario Hockey League champion Peterborough Petes round out the group eyeing the June 4 final for a shot at glory.
Stankoven, a second-round pick of the NHL’s Dallas Stars in 2021, was first in WHL post-season points with 30 (10 goals, 20 assists) in 14 games. His numbers were good for third across the Canadian Hockey League, behind Alexandre Doucet and Josh Lawrence of the Halifax Mooseheads, who each had 31.
Stankoven is used to performing on big stages.
The five-foot-eight, 170-pound forward had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in seven games in Canada’s gold-medal run at the 2022 world junior championship. He followed that with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) at the 2023 tournament, another gold for Canada.
The Blazers, who had the third-best regular-season record behind Seattle and the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL, haven’t won a Memorial Cup since 1995. It was the last from a dominant run that saw Kamloops win it three times in four years (1992, 1994, 1995).
While last season’s WHL and CHL player of the year doesn’t feel he has anything to prove on an individual basis, he wants to show that he can lead a team to victory.
"It's great to have individual success and win individual awards, but people want players that can win and that's what NHL owners and GM's want," Stankoven said. "They want winners.
"I think we can compete against the best here and come out on top. That would be a dream come true."
Ending the Blazers' Memorial Cup drought won't put extra stress on the team, said goaltender Dylan Ernst.
"I don't think any of us are feeling pressure with it," said Ernst, the 26th-ranked North American goaltender on the NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking. "I think we just got to believe in our abilities and the rest will handle itself."
The six-foot-two, 190-pound Ernst led all WHL goaltenders in post-season play with three shutouts and was third with 10 wins and a 2.57 goals-against average across 14 games (10-3-1). He sees the Memorial Cup as a golden chance to prove himself after getting passed up in last year’s NHL draft.
“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “And our coaches talked about how, you know, we win and we're that team.
“And I always want to be connected to these guys. This is one of the tightest groups I had, so that'd be a dream.”
Head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston sees it as a "second life," with eyes set on his squad making the necessary adjustments to redeem itself.
“It was a new start for us,” he said of getting back to the drawing board after the loss to Seattle. “We weren't good enough and we have (time) to make those improvements.
“We have an opportunity right now to make those adjustments, to find it within ourselves with the energy component and we get another shot at it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2023.