Wild don't want to be on outside looking in

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:59 AM ET

The thought of it doesn't make them happy.

The last thing the Winnipeg Wild want to see is the Winnipeg Thrashers -- the team they beat in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League final -- competing in the Telus Cup without them.

"Oh, no," Wild defenceman Luke Paulsen said this week. "Absolutely not."

The Thrashers are already in the national midget hockey championship, which will take place April 20-26 in Selkirk, as the host squad. The Wild need to win this weekend's Telus Cup western regional in Swift Current, Sask., to join their arch rivals at the Selkirk Rec Complex later this month.

The Wild open the western regional this afternoon against the Saskatchewan champion Notre Dame Hounds in what is likely a preview of Sunday's final. The top two teams after the round robin will play for the Telus Cup berth, and the other two squads, the Thunder Bay Kings and host Swift Current Legionnaires, are significant underdogs.

Visions of playing at home for a national championship will no doubt be dancing in the heads of the Wild players, and head coach Paul Krueger will be doing all he can to get his players to ignore them this weekend.

IMPRINTED

Good luck with that, coach.

"He's trying to keep it out of our mind, but everyone's got it imprinted back there," defenceman Connor Milligan said. "You want to come back and play for the national championship. But you gotta stay focused on what you gotta do.

"We just gotta keep things the way we've been playing all year."

The Wild, paced by league scoring leader Michael St. Croix, were 39-4-0-1 during the regular season and lost only once during the run to their second league title in the last five seasons. Their only playoff setback was to the Thrashers in Game 1 of the championship series.

Paulsen believes it's the team's chemistry that has carried it this far, and he's hoping it will take it all the way to Selkirk. The players have shown solidarity by dying their hair blond.

"Each line has good chemistry together, and we all work hard," Paulsen said. "We're playing for each other. And outside of the game we're still tight friends and we all hang out with each other. It really helps."

Added Milligan: "It's the tightest group I've ever been with. It's going to take us being that family and sticking together that's going to help us in the long run."

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SCHEDULE

Today

vs. Notre Dame Hounds, 5 p.m.

Tomorrow

vs. Swift Current Legionnaires, 9 p.m.

Saturday

vs. Thunder Bay Kings, 1 p.m.

Sunday

Final, 3 p.m.


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