Smithers Steelheads take the Coy Cup for the first time. A well-deserved win – but brave, late rally by “gassed” Demons gave loyal fans a big lift
Five games in five nights proved one mountain too high for an injury-riddled Kitimat Ice Demons team which gave its fans something to cheer about by getting to the final and holding the strong Steelheads team to a 3-1 win.
It was all the more exciting as Demons staged a late rally, down 3-0, in time to score a goal and storm the Steelies' net for the final half of the third period. With a bit of puck luck around the net, with the defensemen scrambling and the goalie showing why he was #1 in the league this year – the Ice Demons came within inches of sending this game to O/T – but just didn't have all the weapons they needed – including that extra burst of adrenaline – to achieve the on-ice target they had set for themselves on Tuesday night when the Cup tournament started.
The jubilant Steelheads organization can take a bow for putting together a strong, free-flowing team with lots of fire-power – a team that was probably ready two years ago to challenge and couldn't get past the reigning champs. So big congratulations to the Steelheads and a tip of the hat for their sportsmanlike demeanour throughout. Worthy winners in the best CIHL traditions.
Still, Demons may wonder what could have been with a fully-fit Craig Hewitson, Blaine Markwart, Chris Vilness and Rob Lafferty in the line-up throughout --and the missing (injured) young guns like Jacob Pereira, Tyrone Thomson and DeLisser.
And, bearing in mind this team had no competitive hockey for five weeks after an early bounce out of the playoffs, to see they could still persevere and make an impact in the tournament on guts, determination and skill is a testimony to their commitment to make it to the provincial final. But, that's for another year...
In this final game, Demons were visibly tired after four games in four nights – had many injuries – and fell behind to a withering offence at the 18.54 mark of the first period on a goal by Matt Arnold, from wily veteran Stu Barns.
They were victimized also on the last shot of the period by Mitch Pedersen, which may or may not have gone in before the clock ran out. Refs consulted for a time before Eric Martens pointed to the face-off circle. Rob Millar was awarded an assist.
It just clearly wasn't to be the Demons' game as they also took two of three pretty questionable penalties in what was essentially a good clean game,
Smithers added the only goal of the second period at the nine minute mark to go ahead 3-0 and seemed to be cruising to a fairly easy victory as the Demons scramble to put continuous pressure on Mike Wall, who was absorbing everything.
The beer garden fans were subdued as they tried and came close to their goal to “drink Canada dry” and built a huge pyramid of beer cups that was collapsed by a heavy Kyle Madsen-Ian Smith collision just where the pyramid was placed on the other side of the glass.
Most of the excitement in the game was reserved for the final five minutes when the Ice Demons, clearly determined not to go down without a fight came out of an early penalty kill and launched a more determined attack that had the Steelheads defense and goaltender working hard to preserve the lead.. But they couldn't buy a bounce until two minutes to go when Jeff Mildenberger, Wade Masch and Brent Mailloux combined for the nicest “east-west” passing goal of the night that saw Wall beaten by Mailloux's accurate shot.
Finding some new energy the Demons piled it and and with 1.02 left,Brendan Hutchinson was forced to take a holding penalty and the wily pro Wall, who knows the rules pretty well, bought himself some breathing time but took a delay of the game penalty by removing his mask to get a whistle.
A penalty shot was called on the same play but an exhausted Jeff Mildenberger had the shot slide off the stick, just wide of the top corner and the clock finally ticked down.
BCAHA's Mike Fraser and organizing committee chair, Wendy Kraft handed out silver medals to the Ice Demons, gold medals and winners' hats to the jubilant Steelheads as well as the provincial championship banner and the coveted Coy Cup