By Jon Volker
It was an off-season of uncertainty heading into the 2013-2014 season for the Marquette Royales.
It was unknown to the Royales what league they would call home. Finally, on June 10, the Minnesota Junior Hockey League announced a new member. The Marquette Royales would replace the Chicago Bulldogs in the Great Lakes Division and bring the league to 16 teams once again.
Fast forward to April 2014 and the Royales have quickly become one of the top destinations in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, winning the Busch Cup in their first year in the league.
“I think the biggest surprise was how evenly matched the teams, especially the top five to six, were in each division,” said assistant coach Cliff Cook. “Also, coming from a very physical Western States Hockey League the last three seasons, the MNJHL was more of a skill league, so our physical style surprised some people.”
After just one season, Cook and Royales head coach Mike Stanaway have catapulted the Royales into the forefront of Tier-3 junior hockey. The Royales rank 15th out of 145 teams in Tier-3 junior hockey according to myhockeyrankings.com. They also defeated the Dells Ducks in overtime to win the title game for the MNJHL.
“I’m not sure we were overly surprised, just based on the fact we knew the talent we had. Nearly half our roster had played for Mike Stanaway and I before, so we were confident in what the veterans would bring,” said Cook. “It was up to the new guys to buy in, and they have.”
“I’m not sure we can put into words what it means,” Cook added. “It’s obviously incredibly exciting for the organization, but what it’s meant for this hockey-mad town is huge.”
Marquette’s division at Nationals includes the Helena Bighorns (American West Hockey League champions), the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (Eastern Hockey League runners-up) and the Junior Bruins (USPHL Premier champions).
“By winning the MNJHL Bush Cup, we put ourselves into what I would say is the toughest division at Nationals,” said Cook. “Helena only lost one regulation game this year. Any top team coming out of the EHL is going to be good, so we know the Jr. Monarchs are strong. The Junior Bruins have proven they are, if not the best team in the country, one of the best. But you can’t predict results.”
The road to the National championship won’t be easy for Marquette, but they have already proven that they can beat the top teams in the nation with that win over the Dells Ducks.
“We will continue to play the style that got us here,” said Cook. “For better or worse, we stay with the philosophy that we’d rather have teams adjust to us rather than the other way around. Now, having said that, throughout a game or series we can tweak things as needed, but we have confidence in our talent and work ethic to put us in position to win each night.”
This season has already been a success for the Royales, but winning at Nationals would set themselves up with even more success in the seasons to come.
“Success is always a great recruiting tool, along with Coach Stanaway’s ability to get players into NCAA programs,” said Cook. “All 13 of our ’93’s are leaving Marquette with college offers. That says a lot.”
If you’re interested in joining the Marquette Royales for the 2014-15 season, the Royales will be hosting their second annual Open Tryout Camp on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., July 18-20. Go online to www.marquetteroyales.com to pre-register.
Read past Minnesota Junior Hockey League articles in our archives: