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Prairie 'Dogs

by Jon Rosen / Los Angeles Kings

The bonds that link the Yorkton Terriers to the Los Angeles Kings were strengthened this month, both on the ice and in the dressing room – or, more accurately, the breakfast table.

On the ice, their journey towards claiming the Royal Bank Cup was quite Kingly. Losers of their first two round robin games in Canada’s national Junior A championship, the Eastern Saskatchewan club was forced to win out to keep playing.

The back-to-back SJHL champs did just that, defeating the Carleton Place Canadians to stay alive on May 14, followed one day later by an overtime win over the Dauphin Kings that sent them into the semifinals.

At the same time Yorkton’s turnaround was taking place, the Los Angeles Kings were returning from the brink against the Anaheim Ducks roughly two weeks after they won four straight games against the San Jose Sharks to complete the fourth three-nothing series comeback in National Hockey League history.

And even though Los Angeles had its focus directed solely on the second round of the playoffs, a glance back to his own roots allowed center Jarret Stoll to rekindle a bond with a team with which he has family ties.

Having offered his support through social media, Stoll arranged for a pre-game breakfast spread in advance of the Terriers’ first must-win game, a 3-1 triumph over the Ontario-based Canadians.

After that game, the wins – and the spreads – kept coming.

“I had to keep it going for the last three (games). We know how superstitions are in playoff time,” Stoll said. “Took care of them for a little bit, and I’m just glad to see them win, just glad to see them pull it off. It’s a special memory and moment for them. They’ll always remember that. Some of those kids will move on and keep playing. Some of them maybe won’t. Some of them might end up playing in the NHL someday and they’ll all look back on that and still remember those good times.”

Though a tremendous nod of respect and great faith, the food and the tweets from two time zones away weren’t the reason the Terriers won the tournament. That instead came from the winning expectations and ability to execute with so little margin for error – something that the Kings have displayed by posting comebacks in each of their first two playoff series.

“Everyone might have been a little bit tense and worried, but we knew that Games 3 and 4 were must-wins,” said 21-year-old Yorkton forward Tyler Giebel. “You’ve got to do every single thing you can, otherwise your season’s over.”

“You know what? Some people might not think it’s that big of a deal, but to us it meant a lot,” Giebel said about Stoll’s tweets and pre-game spreads. “It was awesome.”

Stoll, who was born in Eastern Saskatchewan and lived in Yorkton before his hockey career took him to Saskatoon and Cranbrook, British Columbia, and eventually Edmonton and Los Angeles, was linked to the Terriers through family ties.

“I grew up for the most part of my childhood in Yorkton. My brother did play for the Yorkton Terriers. I watched him all the time growing up. It’s the local junior team. The support is great. Everybody loves hockey around those parts and you support your local team and look up to them. They had good teams back when I was growing up. I remember just going to all the games.”

Players across the league engage in fundraising efforts in their hometowns, efforts that were accelerated when the Kings won the 2012 Stanley Cup. Kyle Clifford, whose return to Ayr, Ontario with the Cup in 2012 was accompanied by a raffle that raised funds for local youth sports.

Other players participate in equipment drives, offer support to hospitals, sponsor little league teams and illustrate their support of their hometowns through the encouragement of healthy lifestyle habits.

For a town with the tightened civic fabric of Yorkton, Stoll’s largess to the hockey community was only natural.

“It’s a great town. It’s a great sports town,” he said. “You play baseball and soccer in the summer. Lacrosse is big now out there and obviously hockey is there as well. Great place to grow up, great schools. You have a lot of fun. It gets pretty cold in the winter time, but that’s just the way it is and that’s how we’ve grown up.”

In the championship game, the Terriers trailed 3-1 with under five minutes to play in the third period when goals from Tanner Lishchynsky and Dylan Johnson eight seconds apart brought Yorkton on even footing – and an unescapable belief that the game was theirs.

“After we scored that first goal, there was so much relief and kind of excitement at the same time. I don’t know how to explain it, really,” Giebel said. “You just scream, and then keep pushing for that next one. When we got that one, I think after that we knew we were going to do it. Going into overtime, we were ready. We won a lot of overtimes this season, so we knew we were going to get that one.”

The belief and purpose were accompanied by execution as Derek Falloon, a cousin of former San Jose Sharks legend Pat Falloon, squeaked a puck past the goal line at 15:01 of overtime to complete the stunning reversal and open up the celebration back on the prairie.

It was the first RBC Cup title in the history of the Yorkton program, and though he never played for the Terriers, Stoll wore a smile from ear to ear as he described his roots in the close knit community.

“It’s a pretty special place. I always go back at least once or twice a summer and see friends and family. My sister and her family still live in Yorkton and my brother and his family are just outside of Yorkton, about 20 minutes. My parents are about 45 minutes outside of Yorkton, so everybody is close – a lot of friends and family are still back there.”

It falls in line with what Giebel referred to as “a special Sask bond between players.”

“Even though everyone plays a little bit differently, in a way we all kind of have the same grit and the same drive, and we all push in the same direction towards one goal,” he said. “So I believe we all kind of play the same way, in a way.”

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