When does a demotion turn into a promotion? When it takes you to a national championship.
Just ask Jan Kaminsky.
Failing to win a regular OHL job with the struggling Belleville Bulls this season, the 18-year-old son of former NHLer Yan Kaminsky was farmed out to the Jr. A affiliate Wellington Dukes. Initial disappointment soon gave way to delight.
"At the beginning, of course, I was disappointed," said Kaminsky, a six-foot, 175-pound forward. "But as soon as I got to Wellington, I got more ice time and more opportunity and I started to like it. The guys were great, it's a fun atmosphere and I was playing on a winning team too."
The Dukes finished atop the Eastern Conference of the OJHL, plowed through four playoff rounds to claim the Buckland Cup as league champs and then captured the Dudley Hewitt Cup as Central Canada champions by following a script that even a Hollywood writer would have trouble topping.
This weekend, Dukes begin their quest for an RBC Cup national Jr. A championship in Camrose, Alberta.
At the Dudley Hewitt in Huntsville last week, Dukes were heavily favoured to waltz straight into the final after clobbering the two northern representatives — the Wisconsin Wilderness (SIJHL) and the Soo Eagles (NOJHL) — by a whopping combined margin of 14-3. However, Dukes were stunned 3-2 in double O.T. in their final round-robin game by the host Huntsville Otters, a team that hadn't played a meaningful hockey game in more than two months.
Dukes then survived a four-overtime marathon against a suddenly inspired Soo team, winning 3-2 to reach the final where they beat the Otters 5-3 to earn their first trip to the RBC Cup since 2003 in Charlottetown, PEI.
"The turning point, I think, was that first loss to Huntsville," said Kaminsky. "We sat back after that and realized we weren't getting a bye into the finals and there was the chance of going home early. Then, everybody got mad and focused."
Kaminsky said he has never experienced anything like the five-hour playoff rematch with the Soo that started at 7:30 p.m. and ended past midnight the next day on a goal by team captain Sean Rudy.
"After the third O.T. we came back into the room and turned on some music," said Kaminsky. "Nobody talked. Then, all of a sudden, everybody started clapping. We got up in the middle of the room and started saying, 'We can do this!'
"It was like something you'd see in a movie."
Facing the Otters in the final, Dukes were playing their fifth game in five days while Huntsville had enjoyed a day off.
Kaminsky said it didn't matter. In fact, he believes playing right away might've been an advantage for the Dukes.
"We were still in the hockey mindset," he said. "With a day off, we would've had a relaxing time and maybe our minds might've wandered off from hockey.
"The overtime against the Soo was tiring, but it's a final and you're running on adrenaline. Losing wasn't an option. We weren't going to lose to the same team twice."
Now, Dukes have their sights set on an RBC Cup. They open their preliminary round schedule against the host Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Jr. A league Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET.
"Since I got to Wellington, going to the RBC Cup has been the goal," said Kaminsky. "We had that confidence. Not cockiness — confidence."
Kaminsky said Wellington's winning attitude begins in goal where Jordan Ruby has been a gem for the Dukes with his steady, reliable play and the ability to make game-saving stops when required.
"Of course, he's the anchor of the whole thing," said Kaminsky. "He lets us worry less about defence so we can focus on offence. You know that he can make that big save when you need it. Rudy too, he's a great captain. He takes control.
"The team clicks. Nobody has any grudges. Everybody gets along and laughs. The team chemistry is really good. I've only been on one team before that had this type of chemistry — my U16 team in Atlanta when we beat the national champions."
An offensive-minded forward during his minor hockey days in the U.S., Kaminsky has become more of a role player in Wellington but hopes to contribute to the attack in Camrose.
"I'm excited and hopefully I can help the team score some goals," he said. "I used to score a lot and hopefully I can do it again. My role with the Bulls was more defensive and trying not to make mistakes.
"In Wellington, I could be a little more confident on the ice. I'm not worrying as much about making mistakes and with more ice time there's the chance to correct mistakes if I make them."
Kaminsky's father, Yan, who is director of hockey for two youth programs in Atlanta — the AAA TPH Thunder and the AA Jr. Thrashers — has been monitoring his son's progress from afar. The elder Kaminsky played briefly in the NHL after a stellar career with the Russian Nationals, including a gold medal win at the 1993 world championships.
"He's letting me experience what I'm experiencing, but he tells me stories about how he was part of teams that also won a lot of games," said Kaminsky.
Along with the host Kodiaks, the other teams at the RBC Cup are the two-time defending national champion Vernon Vipers, Portage Terriers and Pembroke Lumber Kings. Kaminsky said Dukes don't know much about their foes and are concentrating on their own game.
"We know the other teams are good enough to be there," he said. "But we're just focusing on ourselves. We want to win. The team is confident. Nobody is really talking about the other teams."
Kaminsky said playing hockey has been a pleasure in Wellington where the players are embraced by the community.
"Smalltown hockey is what Wellington is all about," he said. "This was the first time I was exposed to it. The whole town loves the team. They all come out to the game. They all know your name. You get great support.
"Coming to Canada, I knew everybody knows about hockey. But here, everybody supports you too.
"Nobody in Atlanta came to our games except our parents. Here in Wellington, playing in front of big crowds is awesome."
That said, Kaminsky wants to get back to the OHL. Next season.
"Coming back to Belleville would be great," he said. "Especially with a bigger role where the coach could depend on me. This experience will help."
NOTES ... Kaminsky was chosen by the Bulls in the 14th round, 279th overall, of the 2008 OHL draft from Atlanta's TPH Thunder. He had two assists in 21 games with Belleville this season and 2-5-7 scoring totals in 25 games with the Dukes. In the OJHL playoffs, Kaminsky had two goals and two assists in 16 games ... Once this season, Kaminsky played a game for the Bulls and a game for the Dukes — in the same day.