By Keith Lacey
They haven?t claimed that elusive national championship yet, but that doesn?t lessen the accomplishments of the Rayside Sabrecats this season, or the past seven for that matter.
The Sabrecats qualified for the Royal Bank Cup?the national championship tournament for Tier II hockey in Canada?for the third time in the past seven years, but returned home without a win last week in Halifax.
But that doesn?t mean this season or winning the Northern Ontario Junior A Hockey League championship seven seasons running is forgotten, said head coach Ken MacKenzie.
The Sabrecats got an A for effort at a rally at Tom Davies Square Wednesday, May 15.
?Our goal from the start was to get to Halifax and we got there and that?s what matters,? said MacKenzie.
Their success on the ice is matched by the sense of pride they?ve brought to fans in Rayside-Balfour and Chelmsford over the years.
Deputy mayor Doug Craig said he travels a lot and the Sabrecats are still held in high regard in Summerside, P.E.I., where they competed in their first Royal Bank Cup five years ago.
?People are still talking about the class of the players and this organization years down the road and this clearly indicates the Sabrecats pursue excellence on and off the ice,? said Craig.
?You have every reason to be proud of the season you have had?as an organization you have brought great pride to this community,? said Craig.
Former Rayside-Balfour mayor Lionel Lalonde echoed the same comments.
?Keep plugging and we will bring back the Royal Bank Cup to the City of Greater Sudbury and Rayside-Balfour,? said Lalonde.
MacKenzie, who said he?s going to take several weeks off before making a final decision on whether to return for another year behind the bench, hinted the Sabrecats are strongly considering putting in a bid to host the 2005 Royal Bank Cup in Chelmsford.
?We had a great season. We had a fun season?and the entire organization did a great job,? he said.
Captain Jason Michelutti said the team's fans are a big part of the success and while failing to win at nationals is disappointing, it won?t take away from a great season.
With 14 players coming back, MacKenzie says the team is in great shape and will again be a strong contender to win the NOJHA title next season.