Bantams lose OT thriller in final

Lucas Punkari

Even though his team lost a 2-1 overtime thriller to the Dryden Paper Kings during the Source for Sports Showcase Cup Bantam ‘AA’ tournament final Sunday afternoon at the Ice For Kids Arena, Fort Frances Canadians’ head coach Jamie Davis was in no way disappointed with how his squad performed over the weekend.
“I am just so proud of those kids,” Davis smiled. “We went to Dryden [the previous] weekend and had a great weekend up there, but we ended up losing in the finals to the Paper Kings there 7-2.
“[Then] this weekend, we had a little bit of a slow start on Friday,” Davis noted. “But on Saturday, we started to get things going, and that final game was just unbelievable today [Sunday].
“And once it went into overtime, it was anybody’s game.”
The Canadians’ first two games on Friday didn’t go quite according to plan on home ice as they dropped a 6-3 decision to the Winnipeg Monarchs and skated to a 3-3 draw with the Norwest Stars (Thunder Bay).
“I think the guys all knew what they were supposed to do and what was expected of them, but I think they were a little bit tentative with the games being here at home with their family and friends all watching,” Davis explained.
“The kids had a meeting on Friday night after we tied with Norwest about what needed to happen going ahead, and the guys took it upon themselves to do the necessary thing in order to get the job done, which is part of the reason why I’m so proud of them,” he added.
The Canadians skated away with a pair of wins Saturday—over the Westfort Maroons (Thunder Bay) 3-1 and the Thunder Bay Beavers 4-2—to finish second in the seven-team round-robin standings.
Then they beat the Maroons 4-1 in semi-final action Sunday morning to advance to the final that afternoon.
“Westfort is one heck of a hockey team and like our game in the round-robin, the semi-finals could have gone either way,” Davis noted.
“They actually scored first on us so we had to play from behind early on,” he added. “But the guys just played some solid hockey the rest of the way, and they were able to come back.”
That win set up a date in the final with the Paper Kings, who had finished fourth in the round-robin but then upset the top-ranked Monarchs 6-2 in the semi-finals Sunday morning.
“Going into the final, we had an 0-3 record against Dryden, with the final margins being around five-goal spreads,” Davis noted.
“You have to remember that these are just kids, and if they are going up against a team that they have never beat before, you always have that stuck in the back of your mind that they might just be unstoppable.
“But I think with Dryden losing on Saturday to both Westfort and Winnipeg in the round-robin, that really showed our guys that Dryden isn’t untouchable and you can beat them by a playing a good solid team, and I think we did just that,” he remarked.
Following a scoreless first period, the Paper Kings drew first blood with 3:25 left in the second as Brandon Stanley snapped home a quick shot past Canadians’ goalie Jonah Johnson off a face-off.
But Canadians tied the score with 55 seconds to go in the period when Graeme Kitt banged home a rebound past Paper Kings’ netminder Devon Caren.
Then in the third, it was the goaltenders who stole the show. Caren kept the game knotted up late with a huge stop on Chase Ferguson while Johnson flat out robbed Josh Oberg with a massive glove save with only six seconds left.
“I’m pretty sure that Jonah doesn’t even smile out there,” Davis said. “He’s just stone-faced with no emotion and he never gets down and out.
“He always hangs in there and makes a good save, and both him and Dylan [Ossachuk] played awesome this weekend and helped us out when we needed it,” Davis lauded.
“Our goaltender [Caren] played excellent, but you have to give both goalies credit,” Paper Kings’ coach Andrew Bartlett said.
“He [Johnson] was amazing out there, and he made some huge saves on us,” Bartlett stressed.
In what was the first great scoring chance for either team in overtime, Paper Kings’ forward Trevor Kavanaugh unleashed a cannon from the point to the top corner that Johnson had no chance of stopping, which gave the visitors another tournament victory.
“It was an excellent game and we’re really happy that we were able to win it,” Bartlett smiled.
“As the tournament went along, Fort Frances got better and better, as we expected, as they have some really good players over there and Jamie is doing a great job in coaching those kids,” he added.
“They forced our guys to play extra hard in the finals, and what you saw was a great game to decide a champion.”
Next up for the Bantam ‘AA’ Canadians is a tournament in Bemidji, Mn. next weekend.