The Buffalo Regals have recorded their share of historic wins over the years, but the Terry Miller-coached Pee Wee Majors might have earned one of the greatest victories ever for the youth hockey association when it won the Ontario Minor Hockey Association postseason championship tournament Sunday.
That’s something no American team had ever done until the Regals secured their place in history by defeating Whitby (Ont.), 3-2, in a game played in Oakville, Ont. Connor Pelc scored the championship-clinching goal for Buffalo, whose players not only got to celebrate with the trophy before a mostly pro-Canadian teams crowd but also will get their names engraved on the cup kept at the OMHA home office to be seen by all for posterity.
Think Stanley Cup-winner treatment, except for youth-aged players.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Miller, who coached the Buffalo Saints 16-and-under team to a USA Hockey national title in 2004 and Canisius High School to state Catholic titles in 2008 and 2009.
“We’re the first American team ever in any age group to win this title,” Miller said. “(The Canadian teams) aren’t happy that we won this. Let’s just say they were rooting against us.”
Just how big of a deal is this? Each Regals player will now be linked to a championship won by Hockey Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr and current NHL superstars Steven Stamkos and John Tavares when they were Pee Wee-aged players.
The Buffalo Regals used a 14-game unbeaten streak to end the regular season and earn a No. 2 seed for the postseason. The Regals then went 10-2 during the playoffs, including 7-0 in the South Central Triple A League playoffs. They were one of two SCTA teams to secure a spot in the OMHA Tournament. After losing their opener to North Central (4-3), the Regals defeated Oakville (2-1) and Niagara North (3-0) to clinch a berth in the championship game with room to spare. That’s a good thing because Whitby beat Buffalo, 3-2, in the final game of round-robin play to also clinch a spot in the final.
The Regals, though, won the game that mattered most to finish with a 37-20-9 record.
“As far as amateur hockey goes, for an American team to go up to Canada and win the OMHAs … It’s no small feat. Its groundbreaking,” said longtime area youth and scholastic coach Dan Mancuso, who played for Canisius College during the mid 1980s. “If you’re a hockey person in the area you understand the importance of this victory. There’s nothing better.”
Technically, they should still be playing as their win in the OMHA automatically qualified the Regals for the Ontario Hockey Federation Minor Championship against the three champions from the province’s other youth leagues to decide the overall provincial championship. However, the Regals’ inclusion was met with resistance, according to Miller.
They’re Americans, not Canadians, so Whitby will represent the OMHA at the tournament.
That doesn’t change history. In addition to winning the title, the Regals also get to host the OMHA Tournament next March.
In addition to Pelc, other members of the Regals include Dominic Derenda, Jak Vaarwerk, Christian Greaves, Trent Kubiak, Joe Blackley, Jacob Napier, Mike Milosevski, Tristan Weigand, Gabe Sieracki, Connor Miller, Sam Christiano, Riley Kubiak, Joe Tobia, Ryan Coyne, Jacob Penetrante and Luke Braun.
Other coaches include Jon Braun, Kevin Coyne and trainer Steve Christiano.
Fourteen of the 17 players on the team have played together the past four seasons with Miller as head coach, including the 2014 campaign when as squirts the Regals became the first American team to win that age group’s SCTA postseason title. Unlike this season, though, all of the 2014 Regals teams were still probationary members of the league, which meant they weren’t eligible for the OMHA playoff tournament.
That’s no longer the case as the Regals have the trophy to show for it.
“I’m in awe of winning the whole thing,” Miller said. “We’ve been together for three years. You don’t see that too often in youth sports because kids run toward greener pastures.”