Calgary Buffaloes back to embracing blonde ambition in bid for Telus Cup berth

Freshly-dyed Alberta Under-18 AAA champions off to B.C. for Pacific Region series

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To a player, the Calgary Under-18 AAA Buffaloes have bleached their hair.

Call it blonde ambition …

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Golden flows for a golden time of the hockey season — a sorta tradition dating back two decades or so for the city’s élite southwest crew.

“We didn’t do it last year,” said Buffaloes head coach Brent Harrison, with a big grin. “And, you know, some people say that maybe that was the difference in our season.”

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Indeed, a year ago, Harrison and the Buffs endured an early exit in pursuit of national glory.

But this spring, they are back doing their somewhat-annual thing, winning the province for a third time in the last four Alberta Elite Hockey League seasons to push ever closer to a return the Hockey Canada Men’s Under-18 National Club Championship — a.k.a. the Telus Cup.

Victory in the Pacific Region best-of-three championship series this weekend over the host Vancouver NE Chiefs punches their ticket to that six-team national dance, April 22-28 in Sydney, N.S.

“I actually opened up my big mouth and told them if we made it to Telus, I’d dye my hair blonde, too,” Harrison said. “So if we win a couple games here next this weekend, I might have to do that.

“Just me — not the assistant coaches. It was just me trying to give the players a little extra motivation and assistance. I don’t mind doing something like that if these guys manage to get a couple more wins.”

Anything to push them onward to the national finals — something that didn’t happen for the Buffs two years back after losing to the same host Chiefs program in the Pacific Region Championship.

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Word is the Chiefs — despite being led by a new coach — are similar to the 2022 squad. That is … small, fast and dangerous.

“And physical,” said Buffaloes captain Tyson Murray. “They didn’t get here by luck. They’re gonna be good, so you can’t take them lightly.”

The Buffs are pretty good themselves, though.

They opened the AEHL playoffs with a 2-1 South Division semifinal win over the Red Deer Chiefs and a 3-1 douse of the Calgary NW Flames — last year’s league and Pacific Region champs. They then claimed the Alberta crown — their 10th in team history — over the Sherwood Park Kings in sweeping 4-3 (2OT), 2-1 (3OT) and 6-2 fashion to score the provincial honour.

“Our motivation is we all want to play for each other — we will want to succeed for each other and see each other do well,” said the 17-year-old Murray. “It’s a close group, and we have a lot of motivation to do well for each other.”

“I think our motivation also comes from last year,” continued 17-year-old teammate and goaltender Kael Svenson, joining Murray, Caleb Matthews and Christian Stephanson as the Buffs returnees from the 2022-23 season. “We probably should have went further than we did. We kind of choked in the South Final (against the Flames). And I think a lot of the older guys are pushing on the younger guys to try and go further and just pushing as a team showing them how to do it and what’s along the way.”

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What’s along the way this weekend are games against the host and B.C. champion Chiefs on Friday and Saturday — both at 5:30 p.m. MT — at Scotia Barn in Burnaby, B.C.

If necessary, Game 3 of the Pacific Region finale is slated for Sunday at 1 p.m. MT, also at Scotia Barn.

“Definitely one of the better teams that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Harrison of his Alberta champs. “As far as talent is concerned, it is a talented group — especially offensively. And then we’ve got good goaltending, and our defencemen have played really well in the playoffs. So it’s been a really good mix.

“Definitely right up there with that Telus Cup team we had five years ago (as the 2019 third-place finishers) and a couple of the Mac’s champion teams.”

“The difference this year is we have no quit,” agreed Murray. “Like we’re down in the game, and we’re still expecting to win. We never give up. We always know we have a really solid chance of winning.”

“It’s gonna take the whole team,” continued Svenson. “You know … all the boys battling together and competing together. I think it helps a lot because we all know each other really well. We’re all close friends and everything outside of the rink, and I think that helps a lot in the game in how we communicate and play and get through the tough times.”

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Of course, they’re banking on a little blonde tradition to help them, as well.

“We didn’t do it last year, and then we kind of had a disappointing end,” said Murray of the dye-jobs. “So switching things up this year — something that bonds the team, a little team unity.”

“Most of the boys didn’t want to this year,” continued Svenson. “But the older guys kind of made them do it just so we could do it as a group.”

“I think it’s good,” added Harrison. “They all buy in to it, and that’s something they do as a group. Maybe it’s not the best look for some of the pictures, but I think it’s good for them to do it — and they have a lot of fun with it.”

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X: @ToddSaelhofPM

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