'Pegger takes long road to Mem Cup

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

The Winnipeg Thrashers cut him when he was 15, and he ended up playing his AAA midget hockey in Portage for the Central Plains Capitals.

After two disappointing seasons with the Regina Pats -- the WHL team that drafted him -- he was traded to the Calgary Hitmen.

When the Hitmen had five 20-year-olds on their roster last fall but room for only three, he was one of the two sent packing. He ended up in Moose Jaw, playing for the woeful Warriors.

It has never been a smooth hockey road for Winnipeg's Ian Duval, so it wasn't difficult to detect over the phone yesterday that the smile on his face was as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The 21-year-old centre was calling from Rimouski, Que., where his WHL champion Kelowna Rockets will open the 91st Memorial Cup tonight against the host Oceanic. The 10-day tournament also features the champs from Quebec (Drummondville Voltigeurs) and Ontario (Windsor Spitfires), and Duval can't imagine what it would mean to conclude his career by capturing junior hockey's Holy Grail.

"You'd have to ask me after it happened, but I'd probably be speechless," Duval said. "Just winning a league title is amazing. It's been such a long haul, and it's worth every minute of hard work. It would be an unreal ending to a career, that's for sure."

Despite finishing with 24 fewer points during the regular season, the Rockets downed Duval's former team, the Hitmen, in six games in the WHL final. The St. James product tried not to take any extra satisfaction from the triumph.

"I'm not going to lie. It was a pretty awesome feeling," said Duval, who spent nearly two full seasons in Calgary. "But I don't want to brag too much about that, because I got some buddies on the team."

Not only that, but Duval should have been thanking his lucky stars that he was even in such a position. He came down with mononucleosis during Hitmen training camp in September, which made it easy for the team to get down to the WHL maximum of three 20-year-olds. Duval was dealt to the Warriors, who were on their way to finishing dead last overall.

Then he hit the jackpot without really knowing it.

"They were kind of doing the rebuilding thing, so I asked for a trade and ended up in Kelowna," Duval said. "... I had no clue that Kelowna had an opening, so I was thrilled when I found out."

The day after Duval arrived in the B.C. interior, Swedish star and Calgary Flames first-round draft pick Mikael Backlund showed up in the Rockets dressing room following his strong performance at the world junior championship in Ottawa. Duval and Backlund were put on a line together and remain that way today.

Dynamic

The speedy Duval ended up with 30 points in 26 regular-season games for the Rockets and then added another 18 in 22 playoff matches. Backlund's presence was likely no coincidence.

"He's pretty amazing. He's such a dynamic player," Duval said. "And (third linemate) Cody Almond, too, he's just an amazing player. We've just been gelling, so it's been a lot of fun this year."

The Rockets upset both the Tri-City Americans and Vancouver Giants in the Western Conference before dumping the league-leading Hitmen, who were undefeated in the playoffs going into the final.

"We just outplayed them," Duval said. "We've been an underdog the whole playoff round. We've taken down some higher seeds, and we're playing good team hockey right now.

"We work hard. That's our game. We're tough to beat when we do that, so we gotta keep doing it here."


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