The Edmonton Stingers have already established they are one of the best teams in the Canadian Elite Basketball League, but this weekend the Stingers have a chance to cement themselves as the premier organization in the league.
Edmonton is hosting the CEBL Championship at the Expo Centre and have an opportunity to capture their second straight league title.
“We’re ready, more ready than we’ve ever been,” three-time CEBL Player of the Year Xavier Moon said.
Last year, the Stingers won their first CEBL championship in the league’s Summer Series in St. Catherines, Ont. But the series was played without fans in attendance and far away from Edmonton, so the chance to win the championship on home court and in front of their fans is something the Stingers are relishing.
“I think this is a golden opportunity. For us, the fact it’s at home makes it that much sweeter,” Stingers head coach Jermaine Smalls said.
Edmonton will face the Ottawa Blackjacks Friday night in one of the two semi-finals.
At first glance, the game might appear a mismatch. Ottawa finished sixth in the standings at 4-10, while the Stingers steamrolled through the regular season, losing just once in 14 games.
However, their lone loss came to the Blackjacks and Ottawa is coming off a major upset against the 9-5 Hamilton Honey Badgers in the quarterfinals.
The Blackjacks had several players missing in their quarterfinal game against the Honey Badgers due to COVID-19 protocol, but they’re expecting to have their full roster Friday night, and they’re entering the game believing they can upset the Stingers.
“They’re beatable, which is what we’ve proven, and at the same time, I think they’re on high alert because of that game,” Blackjacks head coach Charles Dube-Brais said.
“So hopefully this serves more of a purpose for us like proving we can do it, go out there, play our A game and hopefully that’s enough for us to pull out the win.”
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But Edmonton is not looking back, they are looking forward, and the defending champions believe they are going to be tough to beat if they are at their best.
“The only team that can beat us is us,” Smalls said. I think when we played them there, it was the first game in their existence, not to take anything away from them, they played well, but I just think we beat ourselves that game, so my focus is let’s not beat ourselves Friday.”
“It’s just another basketball game. Whatever happened in the regular season don’t matter,” Moon said.
“Playoffs is a lot different, everyone come with a lot more intensity, so we not even looking back at the game, we just looking forward to Friday.”
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The single game elimination format the CEBL playoffs benefits underdogs like the Blackjacks, But Smalls said they have been preparing for the post-season by approaching every game like it is a must-win.
“I’ve tried to instill, and I think it’s worked for the most part, a game-7 mentality that we have, and it’s not something that I instilled this year, it was two years ago, when I took over — that’s what we have to be about,” he said.
“It’s such a short season and you have to play every game like it’s your last, and if we can have that mindset, which I think we’ve had. I think we’ve been very successful playing that way and thinking that way.”
The Fraser Valley Bandits will face the Niagara River Lions in the other semifinal.
The championship game with be played Sunday.