‘Circle of Champions’

Summerside Western Capitals’ players react to winning MHL title

JASON SIMMONDS SPORTS EDITOR Jason.simmonds@theguardian.pe.ca @JpsportsJason



SaltWire Network



SUMMERSIDE – As Marc Richard answered questions inside the centre-ice circle as the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals celebrated winning the 202122 Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL) championship, the veteran forward reminisced about an early-season message from head coach Billy McGuigan. “Billy said at the start of the year, ‘This circle right here is the ‘Circle of Champions, and we are going to raise a trophy at the end of the year,’” the fourth-year Caps forward told the SaltWire Network. “That’s exactly what we did.” The Capitals defeated the Truro Bearcats 4-1 on May 2 to win the best-of-seven Canadian Tire Cup final series in five games. It marked the Caps’ fifth league championship since joining the MHL for the 199192 season, and first since the 2012-13 campaign. “It’s a surreal feeling for sure,” said Richard, from Clinton. “We worked four long, hard years for this, especially this year. Coming to the rink every day, this was our end goal.” Richard is one of 12 Caps who are products of P.E.I. minor hockey systems. **** This year’s championship meant a lot to the team’s veterans who have been with the team the last two and three seasons. The 2019-20 Caps had the best record in the regular season, but the season was cancelled just before the start of the playoffs because of COVID-19. The Caps felt they were peaking at the right time last year, when COVID-19 again resulted in the cancellation of the playoffs. Captain and forward Josh MacDonald, who played on both of those teams, paid tribute to the 2019-20 team veterans from P.E.I. during the championship celebration. “I think of Brodie MacArthur, Kallum Muirhead, Brodie MacMillan, Carson MacKinnon, Jacob Arsenault, Zach Thususka, Cam Roberts,” said MacDonald, from Cornwall, P.E.I. “All those guys who should have it (an MHL championship). “A lot of them were in the building (for the series-clinching win against Truro), and we did it for them for sure.” **** The season is not over for the Capitals, who will represent the MHL at the Centennial Cup in Estevan, Sask., from May 19 to 29. Forward Connor Keough of Summerside will become the second member of his family to play for the Caps at the Canadian junior A hockey championship. His father, Shawn Keough, was a forward with the 1988-89 Caps. “I remember he finished second at the Centennial Cup, so we have a chance to beat what he did,” said Connor. “That’s the goal; earn bragging rights.” Keough described his first season with the Caps as a great experience, and credited the team’s leadership group for a smooth transition into the MHL. “All the older guys helped with the expectations throughout the year,” said Connor. “They really helped me fit in, and find a place on the team.” **** Defencemen and brothers Ed and Sid McNeill celebrated winning a championship together with their hometown team. “It feels amazing,” said Ed. “I’ve been here three or four years now, and we tried and tried (to win a championship) and COVID shut us down. To win it now is pretty surreal.” Asked who he thinks of in moments like this, Sid answered “automatically” his family. “We wouldn’t be here without them,” said Sid. “They do so much, and sacrifice so much that we take them for granted sometimes. I am really thankful for them.” **** Third-year forward Riley MacDougall of Stratford celebrated a Caps’ championship for the second time. MacDougall was on the ice when the 2008-09 Caps, coached by his father, Kenny MacDougall, won the MHL title in Summerside. “I don’t have much of a memory of that,” said Riley, 19. “It’s pretty cool to have my father here and everything. “It’s something I grew up with seeing that championship, and seeing how well they did. It’s pretty special to finally do it myself. It’s one thing he didn’t do as a player!” **** Defenceman Logan KellyMurphy of China Point won his first championship in his final year of junior A eligibility. “Left it to the last minute,” joked Kelly-Murphy, 21. “Leave the best to the last, I guess.” Kelly-Murphy proudly skated around the ice waving a P.E.I. flag during the celebration. Asked how it felt to be a champion, Kelly-Murphy replied: “I didn’t know what to expect. This is unreal. My family is here, my teammates, it doesn’t get any better.” **** Second-year forward Landon Clow of Kensington did not play in the final series because of an injury. Clow, who is expected to be back for the Centennial Cup, and injured forward Carter Murchison of Hammonds Plains, N.S., were in full uniform to celebrate the championship with their teammates. “There are not many words to say, really,” said Clow. “There are a lot of emotions coming out.” **** Third-year forward Colby MacArthur of Summerside was named the most valuable player of the playoffs. MacArthur registered 19 points, including eight goals, in 14 post-season games. MacArthur said many thoughts raced through his mind when his opportunity to hoist the Canadian Tire Cup came up. “All the friendships I made over the course of my junior career, and my hockey career,” said MacArthur, who won the regular-season scoring race with 75 points in 38 games. “There is not a better feeling than winning.” **** Isaac Wilson of Vernon River quietly goes about doing his job while providing the Caps with versatility. Wilson can play both forward and defence, and is always willing to stick up for teammates. Wilson said all the hard work the Caps put in during the season brought the team closer together. “It’s hard to describe (how it feels to win the MHL championship), especially able to win it at home in front of all our fans,” said Wilson. “After the last two years of COVID, we are so grateful and are looking forward to nationals.” **** Rookie forward Harrison James of Schurmans Point said winning a championship is a great feeling and an unforgettable moment. James called it the No. 1 highlight of his hockey career to date. “It’s unbelievable,” continued James. “It’s great to get it done with this group of guys. We are all brothers.” **** Sophomore defenceman Will Proud of Stratford acknowledged after everything the Caps’ players and staff went through the last two seasons with COVID-19, this year’s championship carries a little extra significance. “With the (major under-18 Kensington) Wild, we had a good chance of winning it in my third year (2019-20), and got shut down, unfortunately,” said Proud, a former captain of the Wild. “Last year, the same thing. We were just getting going at the right time. This was ours to win, and we just got it done.”