The 2017 Hockey Alberta Jr. B Provincial tournament was a tough one for the hosting St. Paul Canadiens. After losing their first two games against Red Deer and Calgary, the team was unable to advance any further in the tournament and played their final game of the weekend on Saturday afternoon against the Wetaskiwin Icemen.
But, once again, the Canadiens proved they would not go down without a fight. The team’s final game of the season was an intense one that ended in victory for the hometown team.
The Icemen came off a spectacular playoff run, during which the team won the CJHL championship just days before the start of the provincial tournament. The team’s skill was clear as the players hit the ice on Saturday afternoon.
Wetaskiwin dominated St. Paul throughout the majority of the first period. They scored four goals on just eight shots, and the Canadiens looked like they might have been down and out. But, a pair of goals courtesy Morgan Greve and Ryan Rancier, kept the Canadiens afloat throughout the period, which ended with the Icemen up 4-2.
When the second period began, it was like a whole new game. The Canadiens came alive and played as hard as ever to seize control of the game.
“One of our greatest strengths as a team this year has been our ability to regain our composure and refuse to lose control of a game,” said coach Joe Young. “And that’s what happened here today. Each of these boys decided that they weren’t going to end the season on a loss.”
Zach Sylvestre scored in the first minute of the second period, and then Roddy MacDougall tied the game just a minute after that. Then, things got rough.
A string of controversial 10-minute and game misconducts (four for St. Paul, one for Wetaskiwin) were assessed for high-sticks, cross-checks, and hits to the head, and put the Canadiens on the penalty kill for a large portion of the period. But, their special teams were on fire. Nicholas Cuglietta and Ryley Wozniak were each able to score, shutting the Icemen out during the second period and ending it 6-4.
The Icemen scored a power play goal early in the third period on an extended five-minute powerplay carried over from the previous period, but Cuglietta scored again to put a lid on the game, helping the Canadiens take game, 7-5.
As the game ended, emotions ran high for the Canadiens, whose stellar season drew to a close with the sound of the horn. The players gathered on the ice to salute their fans once more, and to give recognition to a few players. Ryan Rancier and goaltender David Rupp (Rupp was also selected as player of the game) are both 21 years old, so they won’t be returning to play again next year.
“It’s tough when you lose core guys like that,” said Young. “Rancier has been a great playmaker and goal-scorer all season, and Rupp has been outstanding in net for years. I’ll miss them, and I’m sure the other boys will, too.”
While Young admitted it was tough to not advance to the tournament finals, especially as tournament hosts, he didn’t disregard the incredible season that the team had.
“You know what? We had one of the best seasons that this club has had in a very long time, and we played some exceptional teams here this weekend. Our boys played their hearts out and didn’t hold anything back. I honestly don’t think I could have been any happier, or prouder, of how they played. We gave it everything we had, and we can find a lot of satisfaction in that.”
When looking ahead to next year, Young says it’s too soon to make any predictions.
“Honestly, I’m not really there yet. We’ll just have to see what happens, at least as far as the roster goes. We’ll lose a few guys due to age restrictions, and we’ll probably lose a few just to everyday life – jobs, home life, the usual stuff. Things change, but I think we’ve found a good groove here that will propel us into the next season. But that’s a bridge that we’ll cross when we come to it.”
By Sunday morning, teams were preparing for the final games of the tournament. The bronze medal game saw Wetaskiwin beat Calgary, 4-0. And in the final gold-medal game, it would be the NEAJBHL champions – the Wainwright Bisons – claim top stop after beating Cochrane 5-4.
NEAJBHL president Ted Graling pointed out that a team from the league hasn’t won at provincials since 2009, which was when now-Canadiens’ coach Joe Young led the Lloydminster Bandits to provincial glory.
“So, there was a bit of a connection there,” said Graling, referring to Young’s success as a coach in the league.
The Wainwright Bisons will now move on to compete at the Keystone Cup for the first time ever. The Keystone Cup is the Junior B ice hockey championship and trophy for Western Canada.