Although the St. Paul Jr. B Canadiens may have missed out on the NEAJBHL banner, with a tough loss to the Wainwright Bisons on Thursday night, the hometown team did not go down without a fight, and gave a full arena of fans plenty to cheer about.
The game was a tight one from the start, and with the Canadiens down 3-0 in the series, it was do or die. Both teams came out fighting, with the game always within a goal. The Bisons would strike first, but the Canadiens would respond with a goal from Kona Jackson.
Then, with just two minutes left in the third, the Bison netted their second goal of the night, but once again Jackson would strike back to tie the game up, and force it to overtime.
The first overtime period didn’t seem to solve anything, as both teams kept fighting hard. A second overtime would also see the game unresolved, and a third overtime would be required.
With just under 12 minutes left on the clock in the sixth period of play, the Bisons would beat goalie David Rupp, and claim the NEAJBHL title for 2017.
The next morning, after emotions had calmed, head coach Joe Young said he was “extremely proud” of his team.
“We could have easily just mailed it in and not had the work ethic that we’re accustomed to,” said Young. Despite being down 3-0 in the series, the boys still felt they had a chance to win the series, he added.
Unfortunately, the Canadiens came out on the losing side.
But, to their head coach, this year’s Junior B team still came out as winners.
“We showed the community the pride that we have,” said Young. He noted that Thursday night’s game was likely one of the best games he’s ever been a party of in the league.
Once again, it wasn’t just the players that impressed Young. He acknowledged that seeing their hometown team down 3-0 in a series could have been a good excuse for fans to stay home. Instead, the stands were packed.
“Talking with the coaching staff, we haven’t heard the Clancy Richard that loud in a while,” said Young. “It (made us) extremely proud . . . Truly, from the coaches to the players, we appreciate that so much.”
That support gives the team motivation to play harder, and further reason to be proud to be part of the community.
Although the size of the crowd cheering on the Canadiens would grow and shrink slightly throughout the season, week after week many of the same faces would be clearly noticeable in the crowd.
“The Junior B Canadiens have had their struggles throughout the years, but this year will be one to remember for a long time,” says fan John Zappitelli, who says he’s been following the club since he moved to St. Paul in 2009.
“I’ve been a fan of this club since I moved to St. Paul, and to see the hard work and passion that this club has presented to the town of St. Paul the last couple years is huge.”
The fan base is growing, which is a positive for many of the younger hockey players in the community who look up to the Junior B players.
“This team has made a huge effort to make their presence in the town of St. Paul knows. If it’s not fundraising for their club, they are helping kids in minor hockey to pursue the love of the game.”
Zappitelli says he chooses to attend the Junior B games with his kids, who are involved in St. Paul Minor Hockey, because, “It’s entrainment that is worth watching and cheering for.”
“One of the biggest improvements I’ve seen this year versus the previous years is that they wanted it. And they fought hard for everything they earned. They fell short (Thursday night), but with provincials coming up . . . we haven’t seen the last of this team. It’s something really to look forward to, and I can’t wait.”
The Alberta Junior B provincials are set to kick off on Thursday at 7 p.m. with an official opening ceremony taking place prior to the Canadiens’ first game of the tournament that same night.
Although the loss against the Bisons was a tough one to swallow last week, “I couldn’t think of a better way to redeem ourselves than by winning provincials,” said Young.
The team has high hopes to make a strong showing as the tournament hosts. Given that it’s not a seven-game series against any given team, Young acknowledges that it will ultimately come down to the team that works the hardest.
“There’s going to be some of the best hockey that (spectators) have ever seen.”
The tournament will include eight Junior B teams from across the province coming together to play in St. Paul from March 30 to April 2.
“Every game is so crucial,” said Young, as he looked forward to the provincial tournament. “It’s not always the best team that’s going to win this. It’s the team that’s going to work the hardest.”
He also encourages people to not be deceived by the “Junior B” title, saying many of the players on the teams have played at a higher level, or are capable of doing so and choose to play Junior B.
Tickets for the provincial tournament are now on sale. A complete tournament schedule is available on the St. Paul Canadiens’ website.