Calgary, AB – Team Alberta punched its ticket to Sunday’s final at the 2016 Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup after a narrow 3-2 win over Team British Columbia on Friday night in a thrilling game at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, AB.
In Friday’s afternoon game, Team Saskatchewan staged a dramatic last-minute comeback which resulted in an overtime win to earn the right to face Team BC in Saturday’s semi-final.
Connor Bouchard reached over his shoulder, grabbed a hold of the big, menacing monkey that had been weighing him down and threw it away as if it weighed nothing at all.
An eighth round pick of the Tri-City Americans and an alternate captain for Team Alberta, Bouchard couldn’t have picked a better time to shake off the big beast as he scored with 6:22 remaining in regulation to lift his squad to a 3-2 victory over Team BC Friday night, propelling the home province into the gold medal game of the 2016 Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup set for Sunday at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
“Hollsy [Dylan Holloway] walked out of the corner and made an unbelievable pass to Browney [Ethan Browne],” Bouchard said, talking about the precision passing executed by his Alberta teammates. “Browney just made an unbelievable pass and I was the guy lucky enough to put it in.
“It’s just the trust that our team has and the bond that we have. We were all over them for 60 minutes and that’s what won us the game. Our boys bought in for this logo here and that’s why we got the ‘W.’”
Bouchard’s heroics didn’t come without some anxious moments in the lead up.
Early in the third period, forward Brayden Tracey split the BC defense to get in alone on goaltender Roman Basran. With pressure coming from behind, Tracey was unable to execute a clean opportunity on net and managed to draw a penalty in the process.
As play came to a stop, the official crossed his arms and emphatically pointed to centre ice, signaling for the most exciting play in hockey – Brayden Tracey had been awarded a penalty shot.
“The ‘D’ man was playing me tight up on the blueline there and right when I saw [Daniel] Baker, I just had to get behind that guy and start moving,” said Tracey, a first round pick of the Moose Jaw Warriors. “Baker made a really nice pass, gave it to me and the guy kind of hooked me down. The ref called it and I didn’t think it was going to be a penalty shot, but he gave it to me, so I’m obviously going to take it.”
With pure patience, Tracey weaved his way in on Basran, moving right to left before snapping a quick shot low along the ice to the back of the net, giving Alberta its first lead of the night.
“It definitely was tough there, it’s 1-1 and [possibly] the go-ahead goal there,” Tracey said, recounting his mental motions prior to picking up the puck at centre ice for his penalty shot. “I just had to think, score, score, score, and that’s what I came through with.
“I heard the netting there, so I was definitely pumped. I looked at the team and they were all going, so that made me even happier.”
That kind of play often serves as a backbreaker in a tightly-contest affair, but Team BC forward Joshua Williams had other plans in mind.
With one goal already to his name and his team trailing, the first round pick of the Medicine Hat Tigers wasn’t done weighing into the proceedings. Given another scoring opportunity, the 6-foot-1 product of Langley converted once again to draw the score even only 3:41 after Alberta had taken the lead.
“They have a great team over there and they buried their chances,” Williams said. “I think our team played extremely well, we just didn’t get the result we wanted.
“We’ve just got to reset and get ready for [Saturday]. It’s going to be a tough one, but I think we can come out with the ‘W.’”
After Bouchard put Alberta back in the driver’s seat, BC didn’t fold the tent, instead pressing furiously for the equalizer. For the second consecutive night, goaltender Byron Fancy painted a masterpiece, slamming the door and making a number of difficult saves as time wound down in regulation, preserving Alberta’s lead and backstopping his club to a perfect 3-0-0 record through round-robin action.
“It was tough, but we battled through it,” Tracey said. “Bouchie played a hard game out there, Baker played good and definitely Fancy – he played a terrific game back there.”
The first period might have gone without a goal, but it certainly was not short on excitement. Both teams exchanged scoring chances, testing the mettle of both Basran and Fancy, with each standing tall to the opportunities they faced. By the final buzzer, Basran made 22 saves, while Fancy knocked down 25 pucks at the other end.
A second period turnover led to the opening goal of the game.
As the puck was coughed up by Alberta at the BC blueline, Williams recognized the opportunity and turned on the jets at centre ice, taking a long stretch pass in stride. In all alone on Fancy, Williams made no mistake, unleashing a shot with his big-league release, beating the Alberta netminder to give BC a 1-0 edge.
Late in the period and only moments after a power play had eluded his team, Tracey picked up the puck along the wall before cutting towards the middle of the offensive zone. Shaking off one defender, the product of Calgary battled his way to the high slot before sending a quick wrist shot past Basran to tie the game 1-1 through 40 minutes of play.
There’s absolutely no question, a greatly anticipated clash of titans had lived up to its billing.
With the win, Alberta locked down first place coming out of the round robin and now tees up for a chance to defend its Challenge Cup crown in the gold medal game on Sunday.
“It’s definitely important to get the rest in [Saturday],” Tracey said. “We’ve got to come out to practice and practice hard, practice right. Then come out Sunday and hopefully get gold.
“We’ve just got to follow through with the coaches. They’re going to come in with a game plan. We trust them. Everyone trusts each other on this team. We came together early as a team.”
Alberta will skate in practice Saturday, but otherwise takes a day away from gameplay, something they plan on taking advantage of come Sunday.
“Rest is a weapon,” Bouchard said. “That’s going to be key… The boys will get a good sleep and we’ll be ready to go on Sunday.
“It really doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re going to come in with the same game plan. We’re going to play our game and that’s going to be the key.”
For BC, Friday marks the westerners’ only loss to this point in the tournament, landing them in second place at the conclusion of the round robin. With that reality sinking in, Team BC will face Team Saskatchewan in semifinal action Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. MT) at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, intent on tracking down a shot at redemption.
“They’re a really good team,” Williams said of Saskatchewan. “We’ve just got to bear down on our chances, keep our feet moving and keep playing the game that we are and I think we’ll be fine.”