As a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Matt Sylvester might be in the minority among his hockey peers, but the captain of the bantam A Stettler Storm is otherwise in perfect harmony with his teammates.
“We’re all pretty good friends,” said Sylvester, 14. “Most of them are also in Grade 9 at my school (William E. Hay).”
While the star-studded Penguins continue their solid NHL season, Sylvester and company host the Hockey Alberta bantam A provincials this Thursday through Sunday at the Stettler Recreation Centre twin-arena complex.
While most of his Stettler buddies are fans of the Edmonton Oilers, “I’m a Pittsburgh Penguin fan,” Sylvester said with a smile.
“I’m a little out there, but I am. I’m the lone soldier on that one.
“Well, they’ve got Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, lots of high talent players. I just look up to them, I guess.”
The Storm look for leadership from Sylvester and assistant captains Quade Cassidy, Ethan Rost and Cayden Spady.
For months, Stettler has been the class of the North Central Minor Hockey Association, and the team has been anxiously awaiting the 10-team provincial championship.
“I’m pretty excited,” Cassidy said. “I hope we can win it.”
Spady believes the host Storm are up to the task.
“Everyone should put in a pretty good effort,” he said at Monday night’s practice. “Since we’re hosting provincials, it should get the fans out here and it should get us pretty pumped up.”
Although it earned an automatic berth as host, Stettler also showed its worth in the playoffs by winning the Zone 7 championship.
“If play good, we should have an all-right chance of doing pretty good in provincials,” Rost said.
“We’re playing league finals, too, so it’s been a pretty good season.”
After sweeping Rocky Mountain House this past weekend, Stettler has advanced to the league final against Sylvan Lake.
But, first things first. The Storm get down to provincial business Thursday with a 6:45 p.m. game against Edmonton.
If they’re fortunate enough to reach Sunday’s 3 p.m. final, they would play six games in four days.
“We’re all pretty excited, but we have to come prepared for every game,” said Sylvester, a high-scoring centre.
“It’s going to be a jam-packed weekend, with lots of games.”
The four Stettler captains and teammate Brendan Bardwell were part of the Storm entry in last season’s bantam A provincials.
“We didn’t fare too well,” Sylvester said. “We had one close game, but other than that, no, not very good.
“The skill level is obviously pretty high — bantam A provincials, so we’ve got to be mentally prepared.
“We know the competition is pretty high, going in, so we’ll play our best, and hope for the best.”
Hosting a provincial championship is a big thrill for the Storm, which includes players from Castor, Big Valley, Alix and the greater Stettler region.
“For me, and I’m guessing most of the players, it would be one of the highest moments (in our minor hockey careers),” Sylvester said. “It is for me.
“I haven’t won a league banner. I won consolation, but not the actual league banner, or the provincials, so I’m hoping to this year.”