Experience a bonus

ADAM WAZNY, STAFF REPORTER

, Last Updated: 7:00 AM ET

It's not every day the Manitoba Junior Hockey League final has a Memorial Cup connection.

That's where Stewart Thiessen comes in.

Thiessen is a defenceman for the Winnipeg South Blues as they skate against the OCN Blizzard for the Turnbull Trophy this week.

Two years ago, he was skating for the Kelowna Rockets, one of two representatives from the Western Hockey League participating in the Memorial Cup -- the holy grail of Canadian junior hockey.

Kelowna beat Gatineau 2-1 to claim the CHL title.

"Not many people get a chance to win that and it was definitely the highlight of my career," said Thiessen, who led all MJHL defencemen in scoring with 26 goals and 69 points this year. "I've been around for five years of junior hockey and been through a few championships, so hopefully I can just be a calming presence for the guys as we go here."

Though he was used sparingly in Kelowna (he played 17 games, but "I didn't see a whole lot of ice," Thiessen recalls), the blue-liner did pick up something from the tournament.

"Josh Gorges was the captain at that time and he was the guy I've tried to mould myself after," Thiessen said of the current San Jose Sharks blue-liner. "He played about 35 minutes a game, it was incredible."

The fact he was on the bench watching Gorges play is just a starting point for the Blues defender. Following his time with the Rockets, Thiessen then split time with the Vancouver Giants and Surrey of the BCJHL, where he won a title with the Eagles last year.

He's tasted a lot of big-time, big-game success.

"And that's been a valuable thing to add to our team," Blues coach Ken Pearson said. "He's almost like another coach. Our guys really listen to what he says -- he doesn't get too high and he doesn't get too low."

Regardless of how much ice Thiessen saw with the Rockets, his experience will be invaluable as this MJHL series moves on.

The 20-year-old, together with captain (and former WHLer) Derek Poplawski, his brother Wade Poplawski and Jason Gray make up the strength of the Winnipeg South team.

All four are solid defensively. All four can jump up in the attack, as well.

The Blues looked to be in the driver's seat Saturday night but a third period collapse (helped along with some gritty work by the OCN forwards) saw the Blizzard escape the St. James Civic Centre with a 4-3 win and left this best-of-seven final tied 1-1.

Game 3 is tomorrow in The Pas (7 p.m.).


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