The New Westminster Royals were crowned the Midget Tier 2 provincial champions following a 5-2 final victory over the Greater Trail Midget Smoke Eaters Wednesday night at the Cominco Arena.
The Royals cruised through their three-game round-robin undefeated, then capped off their run to the final with a thrilling 5-4 double-overtime comeback-win over North Delta in the morning semifinal.
“We had a really tough task against North Delta,” said New West head coach Peter Kaulfuss. “Down 3-1, then 4-2 in the third . . . Right from the get-go we believed we would comeback, it was just a matter of when and what period.”
The Royals played disciplined hockey throughout the tournament, and in Wednesday night’s final a combination of speed and skill upfront blew open a close 2-1 lead to give the Royals a 5-2 edge in the second, before shutting Trail down in the third.
New West opened the scoring on a Miller Cressman goal, and would go up 2-0 after Jordan Smith banged in a cross-crease pass from Ben Manville at 9:04 of the first.
The Smoke Eaters replied when Jake Yuris snuck a puck by Royal goaltender Dominic VonSchoenberg from a tight angle at 1:32. The goal was originally called off by the official, but was reconsidered after consultation with the linesmen, and speculation that it was considered good only after a frustrated Royals’ defenceman shot it back into his own net unaware of the referee’s call.
The Royals went up 3-1 six minutes into the second when Manville was sent in all alone on a Taylor Seganfreddo breakaway pass, and the New West forward beat Brandon Youngson on a slick deke, scoring what proved to be the winning goal.
Trail replied when Devin Ghiradosi’s point shot was kicked out by VonSchoenberg but the rebound bounced right to Tyler Ghiradosi who swatted it into the open net, cutting the lead to one at 9:18.
However, the Royals answered when Ryan Heaven snapped a quick shot into the top corner to go up 4-2 with 5:40 remaining, and Seganfreddo would net one of his own as he stripped the Trail d-man of the puck deep in their zone, then walked out from behind the net and beat Youngson high with just 36 seconds to play in the middle frame.
The Royals shut down a Trail attack that looked fatigued over much of the last two periods.
The fact the Smoke Eaters were in the final was a triumph in its own right. Trail was a long-shot to make the championship game coming into the tournament, and after playing in five pressure-cooker matches leading up to the final, they lacked the jump that got them there – a 3-0 win over Smithers earlier in the day, and a thrilling 4-3 victory over North Delta Tuesday to nail down top spot in Pool A.
“I think it (fatigue) was a factor,” said Trail head coach Brian Youngson. “I thought in spurts today we played selfishly, and we hadn’t done that for the last three days. Just things we got away from doing earlier when we weren’t being successful, kind of fell back into. They wanted to do the right things, but I think their bodies just wouldn’t let them, both mentally and physically.”
Trail emerged atop the tougher pool after early favourites Kelowna and Saanich were upset on the final day by a previously winless Williams Lake team that brought the two teams’ playoff quests to an unforeseen and bitter end.
“We had to work hard to get here,” said Youngson. “I think that other side was pretty easy compared to our side.
“Nobody outside or even in our group – I mean to be honest I couldn’t have envisioned this. You hope for it but the way our season has gone, I honestly hoped for a result like this, but I thought the stars would have to align in order to get it. And I thought they just went out and took it. We got lucky there with Kelowna losing, but when our guys needed to be good, they were.”
“I couldn’t be prouder . . . This is a great way to end the season.”
With nine teams split into two pools, the Royals had an easier time of it in the Pool B round robin, having to play just three games compared to four in Pool A.
Nevertheless, the Royals did what they had to do to win, skating to three decisive victories over Cranbrook, 7-4, Castlegar, 9-1, and Smithers, 6-4. in the round robin, then earned their berth with the impressive comeback win against North Delta in double OT, and their convincing victory over Trail in the final.
It was a great tournament for New West, and, according to their third-year coach, the key to the Royals’ success went deeper from what they accomplished on the ice.
“Just trusting each other and believing in each other (was key),” said Kaulfuss. “I was almost in tears before this game, when the boys went around the room and just said that they’d never been more proud to play with this group at this level, and there will never be another team like this again that they’ll play on, so it is a special moment.”