Ten teams, one title – What to look for at the upcoming NRL championship tournament

For the second year, teams in the National Ringette League have been contending for the right to participate in the NRL championship tournament being held as part of the Canadian Ringette Championships. And, for the second year, the teams are closely matched with no team taking the clear lead going into the event. With five new teams (out of 10) from last year, there will be plenty of turnover and plenty of new faces looking to make waves at the event.

The teams, the event
The NRL championship tournament is a two-part round robin event. This means that teams are in two five-team pools to start things out. The top three teams from each pool are then “promoted” to the championship pool, where they play the top three teams from the other pool. Their points in those three games, plus the games they played in round one against the other championship pool teams, count towards the medal round standings. It is a bit complicated, but here is what we can learn from this: running up the score against a team with a bad record won’t do you any good; letting down your guard in any game, all week long, could be the reason you are eliminated early; and being good at the beginning and hot at the end is likely to be the winning scenario, if last year is any indication.
 
The teams are in the following pools:
Pool A
Edmonton WAM!
Montreal Mission
Prairie Fire
Rive Sud Revolution
Cyclones de Quebec
 
Pool B
Cambridge Turbos
Calgary RATH
Ottawa Ice
Waterloo Wildfire
Atlantic Attack
 
Since games in the first round can count towards your championship pool, it is not enough to “survive and move on”. Moving forward with a 2-0 record means you are in great shape, moving ahead with an 0-2 record means you need to go 3-0 in the next round and hope for some help to get a mini game. Nothing is impossible, but winning from an 0-2 record is a tall order indeed!
 
Battle hardened teams
Of the ten teams at the event, four went into their last weekend of the season knowing they had to perform or be done for the season. For Waterloo, Rive Sud and Quebec this was in the form of a playoff series, and for Prairie Fire it was a tooth and nail final regular season weekend. Conversely, Edmonton WAM! clinched their spot in January and have been in a virtual cruise control since then. Both Montreal and Cambridge clinched early and did not have to push it to get to the championship week. A key indicator early in the week will be to see if these teams are able to turn it back on and compete at the highest levels after having so little on the line for a long time now.
 
The impact of a long season
For three teams, this is the second major tournament of the year. Cambridge, Calgary and Montreal played at the pre-season World Club Championship in November. It was a long time ago, but the long-term effects of six more games and one more significant trip may be felt in Charlottetown. Look for any signs of fatigue amongst the teams that have played more games.
 
Been there, done that
Montreal and Cambridge faced each other in the championship game last year. Edmonton won the whole thing the year before. Calgary lost in the semi-final last year and the final the year before. These teams are no strangers to the pressure of the championship week. As the week wears on and the sticks get gripped a little tighter, their experience may be just what they need to make a play at the right time, to win a big game.
 
New faces
From the slate of 10 teams at last year’s championship event, only four are returning this year. A key story will be the progress of the other six teams as they face the NRL championship format for the first time. Some teams, such as the Atlantic Attack do have some key players who participated last year, but most of the other first-timers (Prairie Fire, Waterloo, Ottawa, Quebec, and Rive Sud) have not faced this tournament format before. Playing two must-win games a day for a week is a unique experience and some teams will handle this new challenge better than others.
 
Day one
You can’t win the NRL Championship on day one of the event. You can lose it though. A 0-2 start does not guarantee that you won’t move on, but it sure makes it hard. In an event like this one, the first game can be vital, you don’t have to win, but you have to show up. Games are close together, and teams have to get that first game out of their memory before they hit the ice the second time. If they do not, they risk being down 0-2 before they have even unpacked their bags. The NRL Championship is a strange event; it is a marathon, where the first 200 metres are essential. Teams that perform in the first 200 metres will do much better over the 26 miles that is the rest of the championship.