On a lucky bounce, so ended the Victoria Cougars attempt at a championship hockey season.
The Cougars lost in double overtime of the Cyclone Taylor Cup gold medal final on Sunday (April 15).
The host Abbotsford Pilots came back to tie the game 2-2 in the third, and later won it, crushing the Cougars’ season worth of work, all to win the provincial junior B hockey championship.
“It was difficult to have such a great season (end that way),” said Cougars coach Mark Van Helvoirt.
“It’s tough to swallow but looking back it’s (also) tough to call this an unsuccessful season.”
The Cougars cleaned out the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, clinching the Andy Hebenton Trophy as regular season champs months before the season ended. In the playoffs, the Cougars lost once in nine games to take the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy league championship.
The Esquimalt-based club was the top ranked junior B team in B.C., and was the favourite to win the Cyclone Cup, which the Peninsula Panthers won last year. Instead, the Pilots will represent B.C. at the Keystone Cup, Western Canadian Championships in Saskatoon, Sask., this coming weekend.
Bannister’s banner year
Chris Bannister ended his junior hockey career in fine fashion, leading the tournament in goals with six. He also scored the Cougars’ first goal in all four Cyclone Cup games.
Bannister’s heroics started in the second period of Game 1 of the round robin on Thursday (April 12), which the Cougars won 3-2. He scored all three goals, including the game-winner in the third.
In Game 2, the Cougars defeated the Beaver Valley Nitehawks 3-0. Bannister broke a scoreless tie in the period, his fourth straight for the Cougars, followed by goals from Josh Wyatt and Sam Rice.
Evan Roch earned the first two wins, including the shutout, stopping all 27 of the Nitehawks’ shots.
Having clinched a spot in the final, Bryce Halverson, who was lights out as the Cougars’ starter during the regular season, played in net for Game 3. It was a mean nothing match against the Delta Ice Hawks on Saturday, with Roch getting a rest day. Bannister scored the team’s first goal, his fifth of the tournament, and Colin Minardi scored the other goal as the Cougars lost 7-2.
Bannister opened the scoring of the gold medal game in the second period. Riley Lamb tied it for the Pilots but captain Brody Coulter put the Cougars up 2-1 on a power play goal, assisted by Bannister.
The Cougars went on defensive lockdown in the third period, not giving up any scoring chances, Van Helvoirt said. So when the Pilots scored on a pinball of a point shot from defenceman Matthew Genovese, it was a shocker, to say the least.
“It was one in a million. We played a textbook third period. They didn’t have any scoring opportunities, and (the tying goal) didn’t have enough power to knock over a pop bottle.”
Then it got worse.
The Cougars were stuck in defensive mode for overtime and didn’t get enough of a push going to create some chances, said their coach.
The end came at four minutes and 17 seconds into the second overtime period. A standard shot from the point, the kind a defensive defenceman such as Garrett Lynum would make in an attempt to create offence via a rebound or deflection, somehow managed to handcuff Roch and sneak into the net.
It set off an epic celebration with the Pilots, and an epic collapse in morale, be it temporarily, to the Cougars.
Former junior A Victoria Grizzlies defenceman Brett Kolins, captain of the Pilots, was named MVP of the tournament.
Had the Cougars won, the trophy would likely have been Bannister’s, who played an opportunistic game and was defensively sound throughout.
“He was a force,” Van Helvoirt said.
“The development of these players, and their growth as individuals has been tremendous this year, and at this level that’s what it’s all about. I’m thankful to the players and organization, for putting together such a good year. It was a lot of hard work.”
It was Van Helvoirt’s fourth trip to the Cyclone Cup as an assistant and head coach, dating back to the 2004-05 season.