Canadiens go out with a bang
The season is over for the St. Paul Junior B Canadiens, but the team managed to give the fans something to cheer about despite falling in four games to the top-ranked Cold Lake Ice.
The Habs entered the playoffs as colossal underdogs against the Cold Lake Ice, who outscored St. Paul 70-9 in six straight wins during the regular season, and while the Habs were swept in four straight games, they managed to come within a pair of goals in Games 2 and 4 against the top-seeded powerhouse, and closed out the season with one of the most exciting games of the year.
“We had a very young team and the guys learned a great deal this year. We showed that when we play with some intensity and want to be engaged in a hockey game that we can compete with anybody on any given night,” Canadiens head coach Joe Young said. “This was a stepping stone for the future of this organization.”
With rookie of the year goaltender Austin Rediron unable to compete in the series due to injury, the Canadiens had to lean on backup Wyatt Dewan, but things got even worse when Dewan left Game 3 with an injury and could not return for Game 4.
Stuck without a starting goaltender and facing elimination, Canadiens head coach Joe Young made some phone calls and found a replacement in Keaton Bakstad of the Beverly Warriors of the Capital Junior Hockey League.
“Luckily I had a few connections in Edmonton and they put him and I in touch,” Young said. “Thank God he came down, he played an absolutely unbelievable game tonight, and he’s only 16 years old.”
While the Ice still managed to deal St. Paul a four-game sweep, Bakstad gave the St. Paul fans a reason to cheer, as he posted 46 saves and kept the Habs in the game until the final seconds.
“I just want to thank the team, because I haven’t really had the best year for my team,” Bakstad said. “I’m just happy I came out for these guys and gave them a good game.”
Despite being down 4-1 with 20 minutes remaining, the Habs continued to battle against the Ice and managed to claw their way into the game in the final minutes with goals from Mackenzie Trach and Pierre Beaudoin.
While the Canadiens fell short of the comeback, the effort showed determination and promise from a young group that saw very few bounces go their way this season.
The Canadiens will now part ways with two over-age players, Brett Blanchette and John Schmitt, but both made a point that they hope to remain with the team next year as part of the coaching staff.
“(Blanchette) made sure he was here to work hard and whatever role we asked him to play, he played it,” said Canadiens general manager Ted Graling. “He’s a great kid, he’s one of the smaller kids in the league but he’s all heart and the kids are going to miss him.”
Blanchette spent four years as a part of the Canadiens organization both as a player and assistant coach, and said he was proud of the way he ended his on-ice career with the team.
“The guys didn’t give up. We had some bad periods but we battled through them and we gave it our all,” Blanchette said. “We almost came back in this one, but ran out of time.”
For Schmitt, Game 4 was a bittersweet send off. Schmitt spent two years with the Cold Lake Ice before becoming a member of the Canadiens, and said goodbye to a number of teammates from both sides as the teams shook hands after the game.
“I’ve played with them for two years and they’re a great bunch of guys over there (in Cold Lake),” Schmitt said, adding that he hopes to continue his role with the Canadiens off the ice next season. “It sucks that I’m done now, but I hope to come back next year and maybe help coach this team to a championship.”
Schmitt won two championships with the Ice before making the transition to the Canadiens, and Graling said that he became a key veteran presence on and off the ice.
“He came here (from Cold Lake) and he was a good leader and a good veteran presence both in the room and on the ice,” Graling said. “He taught the kids how intense you’ve got to be to play in this league.”
Graling added that he was pleased with the way his team continued to battle until the last second of the season, and pointed to president Lisa Davies as a big factor in the team’s turnaround this season.
“Lisa Davies was the backbone of this whole organization this year, when anything had to be done she got it done. She’s got the off-ice in pretty good shape,” Graling said. “As the guys running the team side of it, we’re going to have to recruit and recruiting is big . . . we want the same thing next year, kids that want to be here.”
The Cold Lake Ice will now wait to be seeded against their second-round opponent for round two of the NEAJBHL playoffs.
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