It was an all-Kootenay final at the Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association’s (GTMHA) Midget Tournament on Sunday at the Cominco Arena.
The Kootenay Rapids came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Trail Midget Smoke Eaters 3-2 in overtime, and go undefeated in the six-team tournament to earn the gold medal.
“It was good, the kids were really resilient,” said Devon Reid, the Rapids assistant coach. “They were down seven players this game from injury, and we asked the kids to dig deep. We came out and got down two goals early, and came back to tie it up and went into overtime. The kids just dug deep and gave us everything they had and that’s all we can ask for as coaches.”
The Tier 2 Rapids’ assistant captain Jake Laplante scored all three Kootenay goals, and netted the winner 61 seconds into the extra frame. Laplante deflected a Jacob Lindsey shot from the top of the circle over the shoulder of Trail goalie Brenden Gustafsson to start the Kootenay celebration and bring to a close a gutsy effort from the Trail team.
“It was nice because we thought we might have to play Spokane in this game but Trail managed to beat Spokane in a shootout this morning which is awesome for them,” said Reid, whose Kootenay team is made up of players from Castlegar and Nelson. “It gave the two local teams a chance to play it out, and it has been a great year so far, and these kids have been awesome.”
After a scoreless first period, Nathan Ingram gathered the puck behind the Kootenay net and sent a perfect pass to Bodie Gallo who wired it by Rapids goalie Brody Herridge to give the Midget Smokies a 1-0 lead. On a similar play 20 seconds later, Roman Kohl sent a pass to Dallas Cox in the slot and he wristed it past Herridge to make it 2-0 Trail at 15:11. But Laplante brought the Rapids to within one netting a power-play goal when his centering pass banked off the Trail defenceman and past Gustafsson at 5:10 of the middle frame.
Kootenay stepped up the pace in the third period, and despite a number of great saves from the Trail goalie, Laplante found the equalizer at 7:42, redirecting an Erik Nystrom point-shot to tie it at 2-2 and force overtime.
“I think maybe we got a little hesitant there and tried to protect the lead,” said Trail head coach Lyle Frank. “You just can’t play like that, you have to keep taking it to a team over 60 minutes. Overtime, again, with them, anything can happen, and we came out on the wrong side of that one.”
The Trail Tier 3 Midgets dropped their opening game of the tournament, 3-0, to the Spokane Jr. Chiefs, but battled back with a gutsy 7-6 victory over the Clearwater Icehawks and a 3-0 win over South Okanagan to wrap up the round robin.
The third-seeded Trail Midgets faced number-2 seed Spokane in the semifinal and after skating to a 3-3 tie in regulation and nothing solved in overtime, the game went to a shootout. Trail scored on three of their five shootout chances to Spokane’s two to emerge victorious and advance to the final.
“It was a pretty good game this morning,” said Frank. “Josh Ballarin had a great game in net and stood on his head. Overtime shootout, anything can happen, and we came out on the right side, so the guys were pretty excited about that going into this game.”
The Rapids opened the tournament with a 5-2 win over the Vernon Vipers, then tied Spokane 4-4, before walking over South Okanagan 8-3 to finish top seed in the tournament. Kootenay then beat Vernon 5-0 in the semifinal to advance to the final against Trail.
“I’m proud of every single one of our guys and the way they played, but you never want to sit there and watch another team celebrate,” said Frank. “But I know we have two or three more games against them and we’ll remember this celebration, and that’s something that will probably drive us the rest of the season.”