Entering any championship tournament as host team can present its share of challenges, a fact not lost, in the least, on Nickel City Peewee AA Rebels head coach Steve Blinn.
The long-time local volunteer is at the helm of one of five teams taking to the ice this weekend at the Ray Plourde Arena in Val Caron, site of the 2012 Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF) Peewee AA Championships.
"We thought we had a pretty balanced club at the start of the year," Blinn said, just prior to a final exhibition tune-up against the Sudbury Minor Peewee AAA Wolves earlier this week.
"With the exception of the Minor Peewee Wolves and Minor Peewee Sons, we've had it relatively easy for most of the season,” Blinn said. “What hurt us, heading down south, was raising our intensity level up against tougher teams. We spend quite a bit of time on that this year, but it's not something that's easy to teach."
Though the Rebels are familiar with both the North Bay Trappers, who they handled quite well, and the Centre Wellington Fusion, who they tied (4-4) in Guelph, the field is rounded out by some top-end competition.
The London Jr. Knights bring a big, physical squad to town while the Mississauga Braves have lost only a small handful of games all year. If the competition is the least bit intimidating, it doesn't seem to be affecting goaltender Nicholas Larocque.
"I think we have a good chance this weekend, because we have a good team," the Rayside-Balfour native said. "We have to play good defensively, keep the pucks out of the middle of the ice."
In fact, much of the priority, of late, has revolved around this concept.
"We focused on trying to make opponents go to the outside, instead of the inside," forward Jason Gough said after the game.
A Capreol native who has worked closely with coach Blinn in the past, Gough is always happy with the annual wintertime reunion. "He's my favourite coach. He makes us work hard, so he helps to make us better."
"We wanted to build the team for this weekend, knowing we would have some tough competition," Blinn said.
While the Valley East bench boss might be quite familiar with the youngsters who have developed within the previous Rebels system, he is also thankful for the additional talent that came his way via the formation of the Nickel City Hockey Association this year.
"Our depth certainly improved getting kids from Walden and Rayside," he said. "They've been great additions. Throughout the year, our goal was to roll the lines, develop the kids, because we knew we were hosting (the OHF Championships)."
Come Sunday afternoon, Blinn and company are hopeful the approach pays off.
The Rebels will be in tough right out of the gate, facing both London (11:30 a.m.) and Mississauga (7 p.m.) on Friday. The championship final is slated for 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon in Val Caron.
Posted by Laurel Myers