Regina, Sask. – When Jared Legien first entered the Western Hockey League as the ninth overall selection at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, the horizon was oh so bright – the possibilities and potential seemed endless.
It may have taken the 19-year-old a few years to find a quality opportunity and get his feet underneath him, but now he’s playing for his hometown Regina Pats in search of a title at the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup.
“It’s a very special experience, especially for me, being in Regina playing for the hometown team,” Legien said during an off-day. “It’s unbelievable. Growing up, I lived in Regina and my parents had [Pats] season tickets, so I came to a lot of games and watched a lot of good players play here. For me to get the opportunity to play here, it’s pretty special.”
Hailing from nearby Pilot Butte, Sask., a town of nearly 2,200 people located only 20 kilometres northeast of Regina, Legien spent much of his childhood growing up in Regina before playing for the Moose Jaw Generals of the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League.
After being drafted into the WHL by the Kootenay ICE, Legien made immense contributions off the ice in 2015-16, being recognized with the Kootenay ICE EKC Community Relations Award. But after playing 84 WHL games with the ICE, spread across the 2014-15 through 2016-17 seasons, Legien found himself on the outs in Cranbrook. Only two games into the 2016-17 season and the 6-foot-1, 194-pound sniper was sent back to the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Having managed only nine points in those 84 WHL games, there’s no question the former first-round bantam pick was in need of a confidence boost. He took it upon himself to make the most of his time playing Junior A hockey with the perennial powerhouse Terriers.
“Going back to Yorkton was a good thing,” Legien said. “I had a lot of fun, I found my touch again and I had a good year. I don’t think of it as a negative. It was a great place to play with great fans and a lot of great teammates.
“It was a positive in my whirlwind career.”
Dogged determination and perseverance paid off for Legien. The soft-spoken speedster regained his scoring touch in 2016-17 with the Terriers, rattling off 30 goals and 56 points in 51 SJHL contests. Once again, he caught the eye of WHL hockey operations staff and was signed to a new WHL Standard Player Agreement by the Victoria Royals.
“I’ve had some highs and I’ve had some lows, for sure,” Legien said. “I’ve played in a lot of different places, made a lot of good friends – a lot of friends I still talk to today. The biggest thing is just the people I’ve met along the way. My billets, everywhere I’ve played, have always been fantastic and all my teammates, too.”
A new dawn was imminent.
When Legien returned to the WHL in the fall of 2017, he brought with him a renewed confidence, which he put to immediate use on Vancouver Island. Through 36 games with the Royals, Legien produced at a near point-per-game rate, including 13 goals and 33 points while firmly entrenching himself in the team’s top-six forward group.
“[The coaching staff in Victoria] knew what kind of player I was and what I like to do,” Legien said. “I have a lot of tendencies, good and bad. They worked with them both ways and helped out lots, either way. They let me play, that was the biggest thing for me.”
Not only did he prove himself as a valuable contributor atop the Royals’ lineup, he suddenly became a target for hungry general managers looking to upgrade their rosters prior to the final push for the 2018 WHL Playoffs.
When Pats general manager and head coach John Paddock came calling, Legien couldn’t have been more excited.
On December 27, Paddock brought Legien home to the Land of Living Skies, sending forward Braydon Buziak and a conditional seventh-round selection (2018) to the Royals in exchange.
“Jared scores goals and he likes to score goals,” Paddock said. “He was given a shot in the League this year by Victoria and us that to some extent, he never really had. We’ve found him to be a useful player when we slot him in and give him opportunities at the right times.”
Legien joined the Pats in the heat of their push towards the WHL post-season, an all-out dogfight in the WHL’s stacked East Division, which featured the eventual WHL Regular Season Champion Moose Jaw Warriors and Ed Chynoweth Cup Champion Swift Current Broncos.
“Cam [Hope], the general manager in Victoria, did a lot for me,” Legien said. “I’m very thankful for him and all that he’s done for me. I was extremely excited to come back to Regina and play here close to my hometown.
“[My role] changes here and there. [Coach Paddock] wanted secondary scoring and felt I could bring that. That’s the main reason I’m here. At the end of the day, that’s my job. I try to help out whenever I can. Whenever I get the chance to chip in, I just have to bury.”
Tasked with providing secondary in his new threads, Legien went to work and did exactly that, collecting 17 points, including 10 goals in 25 games with the Pats. At the end of the 2017-18 regular season, he totaled 23 goals and 50 points through 61 contests, new career highs in every major statistical category.
At no point did Paddock worry about putting any additional pressure on Legien by having him play in front of friends and family at home.
“They should feel excitement, grab a hold of it and enjoy it, whatever that entails,” Paddock said.
Though Legien and the Pats were knocked out of WHL Championship contention in a hard-fought seven-game first-round tilt with the aforementioned Broncos, the hopes for a crown in the Queen City remained alive with the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup scheduled to hit the Brandt Centre in May.
Now, with two tournament games in the books, Legien and the Pats sit at 1-1, having knocked off the OHL-champion Hamilton Bulldogs by a 3-2 margin on opening night before falling 8-6 to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in their second contest, one that proved to be of the high-octane offense variety.
Wrapping up the round-robin comes the most anticipated game of the tournament, and as things currently stand, there will be a lot on the line when the Pats and the winless Broncos go to blows Wednesday evening.
“Everyone in the room is really excited,” Legien said, looking ahead to Wednesday’s rematch with the Broncos. “[Swift Current] is a good team, obviously. We knew it was going to come down, eventually, to us and them. We think we can do it if we stick to our game plan, play hard and play our game.”
The Broncos and Pats are more than familiar with one another. Including a two-game home-and-home set to end the regular season along with their seven-game playoff series, the two East Division rivals faced off nine consecutive times from March 16 through April 2. With a great deal still hanging in the balance at the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup, the Pats and Broncos know they will meet at least one more time in perhaps their most significant clash of the year. Still, the possibility remains they could meet one more time in the elimination round, just for good measure.
“We have to play fast, move the puck fast,” Legien said. “Last game [against the Titan], we got away from it a bit in the first couple periods. We had a good push in the third period and showed some character. That’s what we have to duplicate – that third period. Desperation hockey – you always hear it’s Game 7 all the time here. We’ve just got to get back to play desperate, like we can.”
One thing is for sure, Legien doesn’t want the sun to set on a bounce-back campaign with anything less than a Mastercard Memorial Cup title on home ice.
Game 6 of the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup featuring the Swift Current Broncos and Regina Pats is set for 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23 and can be seen coast to coast on Sportsnet.