Every young hockey player dreams of playing in the NHL one day and for the Pats’ Josh Mahura and Sam Steel, that dream has been put on hold — at least for a little while.
Steel and Mahura, who were both drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in last year’s NHL Draft, were also both returned to the Regina Pats last week after being in California for training camp.
And while it’s a little disappointing not to still be with the big club, Regina is a nice consolation prize.
“You obviously want to play in the NHL, but at the same time, I don’t think there’s a better situation coming back than to come to this team,” Steel said.
As hosts of the 100th Memorial Cup, Steel, Mahura and the rest of the Pats team are the only sure invite to this year’s league championship tournament, as the host team is automatically in.
“We’ve got an exciting year ahead of us,” Mahura said. “There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, but just to kind of get it going right away here and get back in the mix of things is real fun.”
Steel said despite the NHL dream it would have been disappointing not to be able to play in the Memorial Cup with the team he’s spent his entire WHL career playing for.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I fully expect us to make the most of it,” he said.
The Regina Pats were just a couple wins away from making the Memorial Cup last year, losing in game six of the WHL final to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The Pats have lost a few key contributors to last year’s playoff run including Adam Brooks, Dawson Leedahl and Connor Hobbs, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t expect to have another strong season.
In just two games back Steel already has six points, Mahura has five. Both players said it was easy to fit back in with the team despite missing the first few games.
“It was real exciting (and a) quick transition coming back but it’s been good so far,” Mahura said. “It’s kind of nice to have a little week here to get practising again with the guys and get going with them and get ready for (games Friday and Saturday).”
Steel, last season’s WHL top scorer and player of the year, said the experience in Anaheim did make him a better player, but it also exposed some of the areas his game needs work.
“I mean it’s not like I go there and instantly become a better player,” he said of Ducks training camp.
“When you go there it’s kind of a different game, it’s faster, (there are) a lot of stronger guys so it definitely points out your weakness. I think for me it’s just working on my speed and strength and that’s something I’m going to try to work on all year.”
The return of two of the team’s top players so soon actually was a bit of a surprise for the Pats coaches, but they’ll take it.
“It’s a bonus. When we look at the big picture we really didn’t expect Sam back this early. Getting Josh back, we knew it was going to come within a couple weeks, but for us right now it’s definitely a big part of where we’re going, needing those guys,” said assistant coach and assistant general manager Dave Struch.
“All the pieces are starting to fall into place.”