Editor in Chief
The MQT Royales are going to the USA Hockey Tier III national championships with an extra piece of baggage: the Busch Cup.
After already clinching a national bid by defeating the Hudson Crusaders (Wisc.) in the semifinals, the Royales defeated the Dells Ducks 3-2 in overtime to win the Minnesota Junior Hockey League tournament championship to bring the first ever junior hockey title to MQT.
“Its amazing,” said Royales forward and MQT native Dallas McLaughlin. “I think a lot of guys on the team don't realize that this is such a big deal for this city.”
After a back and forth start to the extra period, Lane King ripped a shot from the top of the circle and Jeff Salzbrunn was able to put in the rebound before the net came off to win the game.
To get to the nationals and the conference finals, the Royales had to first go through the Crusaders. Hudson finished the season as the third seed in the Minnesota Division at 28-14-3-1 record for 60 points. They defeated the Steele County Blades (Minn.) in the first round and then upset the Maple Grove Energy (Minn.) to make it to the final four.
After a 4-3 overtime victory on Friday, the Royales dropped the second game against the Crusaders 5-4 in overtime. MQT rallied on Sunday to win 6-4 and take the series. McLaughlin scored eight goals in the series – five of them in game three – but said the defense helped start the offensive attack.
“Our defense had great vision those games and I worked my butt off for them,” McLaughlin said. “Every time on the ice I look for (Hudson's) D making mistakes to let me go into the zone first.
With the three games against the Crusaders and one more for the championship, the Royales played four games in four days. Three of those games went into overtime.
“You could see our fatigue in the championship game, but to play that much hockey in a short period of time really displayed our team's desire and endurance,” Stanaway said.
MQT rallied around the first-year franchise's trip to the league final four. Fans rallied on social media, went to viewing parties at bars and restaurants and a police escort brought the team back into town. McLaughlin, Hayden Rajala and Mike House are MQT natives while Bryce Leaf, Trevor Givens and Brett Hebert are from other Upper Peninsula towns. Three members of the Royales staff are from MQT as well, including Stanaway, Goalie Coach Jim Stanaway and Director of Player Personnel Derek Brumm.
“You have no idea what (the hometown support) means to me,” Mike Stanaway said. “I was born in MQT, grew up in MQT and now I am back home in MQT. Sharing MQT with all the players from out of town is the best part of this team. These guys get to truly experience and appreciate what MQT is all about.”
The team will take a couple days off before taking practice at the Berry Events Center. The team will leave Tuesday, April 1 for Simbury, Conn., the location of the national championship tournament. The twelve teams will be divided between three pools of four, with the winner of each pool moving to a final four. To fill the final slot, the team with the best remaining record will also move on.
The Dells Ducks also qualified for nationals after defeating the Illiana Blackbirds (Ind.) in a two-game sweep. The Ducks are coached by former Northern Michigan varsity goalie Bill Zaniboni, adding a stronger MQT tie to the national tournament.
The team will be driving to Connecticut by bus. The team is gauging interest in a fan bus through their Facebook page.
Brice Burge is the Editor in Chief of MQT Social Scene. He can be reached at briceMQT@gmail.com.