The West Kelowna Warriors shut out the Lloydminster Bobcats 4-0 on Sunday to capture it’s first Royal Bank Cup junior A national championship.
Matthew Greenfield made 48 saves for the Warriors in the only shutout of the tournament. The Bobcats peppered the goaltender every period, yet couldn’t find a crack in the wall to slip a goal by and build momentum.
In the end, Jonathan Desbiens’s first period goal turned out to be the game winner, as the Warriors ended the season as the best team amongst the 131 teams in Canada.
“There are no words,” said Warrior forward and Lashburn native Kylar Hope. “It’s cliche, but there is no words, it’s amazing. You grow up here playing and you know so many faces, you go lift the Cup in front of them and you know people you went to school with, people you’ve seen around the hockey rink, friends and family, it’s amazing.”
West Kelowna finished the round robin 2-1-1 and got into the final after a 4-1 victory over the Brooks Bandits.
Against the Bobcats in the championship game, the Warriors wanted to get through the first 10 minutes and take the crowd out of the game, knowing the arena that was packed with Bobcats fans could help sway the game.
Desbiens goal came with 5:21 left in the first period, while Reed Gunville scored with 6:29 remaining in the second period to give the Warriors a small cushion.
Liam Blackburn, who was tied for the tournament lead in scoring, slipped one past Alex Leclerc in the third period while short handed for the 3-0 lead, forcing the Bobcats to pull their goalie in a last effort to get back in the game. However, Rylan Yaremko would get the puck down the ice and into the back of the net for the empty net goal, sealing the victory for West Kelowna.
“Any time you win a championship at any level it’s special,” said West Kelowna head coach Rylan Ferster. “We liked our group internally from Day 1. We had to make a couple moves to solidify our team and when we made the move for Matthew Greenfield, that seemed to really settle us down. It just seemed like every time in the playoffs, we seemed to be a little bit of an underdog. We had to come through some really good teams to get here and we didn’t have an easy road. We earned our way here.”
For the Bobcats, the round robin was especially difficult for a team that was eliminated from the playoffs a month earlier and had to sit and wait to get back into competitive action. Lloydminster snuck in with their victory over Carleton Place and upset the Trenton Golden Hawks in the semi-final to earn their spot in the championship game.
It didn’t go the way they would have wanted, but head coach Gord Thibodeau said, they played Bobcats style of hockey and were beat by a better team — there is no shame at all in that.
“I was very pleased in out effort and there was very few things I would take back in the game,” said Thibodeau. “We played a very strong game. If we could have got one it would have changed things. But full credit to West Kelowna. There is no shame in losing to a team like that.”
While it wasn’t a national championship, Lloydminster finished the season as the second best team in the country, a feat that no other team in the franchises’ history has came close to.
Lloydminster didn’t accomplish any of the championship goals they set out to do at the beginning of the season, but the team set franchise records in wins and in points, moved 11 players onto post-secondary hockey, and will leave a lasting impression on the city of Lloydminster and the hockey club that will last well into the future, setting the franchise up for success for years to come.
“We’ve started to build a foundation of success. That’s the biggest attribute to come out of this,” said Thibodeau. “The 22 guys in that room did that. Hosting the RBC was huge, but in terms of building the success on the ice, those 22 guys are responsible for that. They are building expectations that hopefully we are going to carry forward next year and for years forward. We are awfully proud of them for that. That’s how you build strong organization, you have to build off something successful and this year to me was a great success.”