Former Trail Smoke Eater coach Cam Keith (back row, fifth from right) celebrates an RBC Cup Championship with the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday. The Chiefs defeated the Wellington Dukes, 4-2, in the championship match. BCHL photo.

Former Trail Smoke Eater coach Cam Keith (back row, fifth from right) celebrates an RBC Cup Championship with the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday. The Chiefs defeated the Wellington Dukes, 4-2, in the championship match. BCHL photo.

Former Smoke Eater coach celebrates RBC Cup victory with Chiefs

Strange twist of fate sees former Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith capture national title

Former Trail Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith celebrated an RBC Cup championship on Sunday as an assistant coach of the Chilliwack Chiefs.

The host team defeated the Wellington Dukes 4-2 in Sunday’s final at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack, following a 3-2 semifinal victory over the Ottawa Jr. Senators on Saturday.

“I told them to believe in themselves and stay with it,” said Chiefs head coach, Brian Maloney. “I knew our conditioning would take over and I felt we had the legs to make a push in the third. The team didn’t get fancy, they didn’t try to win it on every shift. We just kind of controlled the puck, wore them down a bit and the results started to show for us.”

After dropping its tournament opener 2-1 in overtime against the Pacific champion Wenatchee Wild, Chilliwack won five straight games to capture the championship and hoist its first RBC Cup.

Maloney was thrust into the head coach-GM role following the firing of head coach and GM Jason Tatarnic just a week prior to the tournament puck drop.

Keith had been let go by the Smoke Eaters a month earlier after the Game 5 loss to Wenatchee in the Interior Division semifinal. Maloney, who knew Keith from their playing days in NCAA, AHL, and Europe, promptly hired the Nelson native as interim assistant coach, a shrewd move considering Keith’s experience playing against the Wild.

Wenatchee went through the tournament undefeated, but the highly sought after final between the two BCHL teams was thwarted by fourth seed Wellington in the semifinal, as the Dukes held on for a 2-1 victory over the Wild despite being outshot 50-14.

In Sunday’s final, Chilliwack found itself trailing 1-0 after an early goal off the stick of Wellington’s Ted McGeen. The Chiefs and Dukes traded goals in the second period before Chilliwack captain Will Calverley scored the game-tying goal under five minutes into the third period.

Corey Andonovski sealed the RBC Cup with the game-winning goal with 11:28 remaining.

“I saw one of our guys going and he chipped the puck in. It took a funny bounce off the glass and popped out right to me,” said Andonovski, who was named player of the game for the Chiefs. “I tried to get a quick shot away and I was lucky enough to get it through on the second little poke I had.”

The Chiefs’ Tommy Lee, who hadn’t scored since the first round series opener versus Prince George, added insurance at 12:20.

Lee and Andonovski led the offense for Chilliwack with one goal and one assist each. Goaltender Daniel Chenard recorded 26 saves to secure the win.

Chilliwack is the third host team in four years to win the RBC Cup, getting in plenty of rest and preparation time, while, Wenatchee beat out the Smoke Eaters in the Interior Division final, the Prince George Spruce Kings in the final to win the BCHL’s Fred Page Cup, and then rolled over the Spruce Grove Saints in five for the Pacific championship Doyle Cup.

Prior to the tournament, the Chiefs played their last game on Mar. 11 in the opening round of the BCHL playoffs where they lost in seven games to the Spruce Kings.

Coincidently, new Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini is a former Chilliwack Chiefs player (2001-2) and BCHL scoring champion, and was invited to drop the puck on the opening face off last Thursday, when Chilliwack faced off against the Steinbach Pistons. Tambellini predicted a Chiefs RBC Cup victory in an interview with Global TV that same day.

Chilliwack is the 14th B.C. Hockey League team to win the national championship, but the first to do it as host. The most recent BCHL team to win the Canadian Jr. A championship was the West Kelowna Warriors in 2016.

The 2019 RBC Cup will be held May 11-19 at the Centennial Regional Arena in Brooks, Alta., with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League playing host.