The Abbotsford Pilots, to a man, swear that winning the Keystone Cup wasn’t easy.
But they sure made it look that way.
The local junior B hockey club claimed the Western Canadian championship in decisive fashion, crushing the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks 9-1 in the title game on Sunday afternoon in Saskatoon.
When the final horn sounded and the players shed helmets, gloves and sticks in a euphoric on-ice celebration, it was an emotional moment for Pilots general manager/owner Jack Goeson, who has operated the franchise since 1990. While his teams have been perennial contenders, the closest he’d come to the Keystone Cup came back in 2000, when the Pilots finished third.
“It feels pretty nice, almost unbelievable,” Goeson marveled, the wonderment in his voice suggesting he needed someone to pinch him. “There’s a lot of emotion after so many years of trying to get this.
“I’m happy for our city and all of our fans who have done so much for us over the years, and all of our volunteers who have made this possible. It’s an unbelievable thing, and I’m so happy.”
The Pilots dominated from the opening faceoff on Sunday, as goals by Riley Lamb, Travis Grewal and Kevin Lourens staked them to a 3-0 lead after one period.
Abbotsford blueliner Scott Rae-Douglas made it 4-0 early in the second, before Nathan Spina got Thunder Bay on the board with a power-play goal.
But it was all Pilots from there. Lamb would rack up three more goals, and Justin Dorey potted two of his own as Abbotsford cruised to the title.
Goalie Riley Parker turned aside 22 of 23 Northern Hawks shots in the victory.
When the dust had settled, Lamb and Dorey had each registered an eye-popping seven points – Lamb with four goals and three assists, and Dorey with two goals and five helpers.
Dorey picked up MVP honours after leading the tournament in scoring with 10 goals and 11 assists in six games.
“My linemates, I couldn’t have done it without them,” said Dorey, giving credit to fellow 20-year-olds Lamb and Lourens. “We were just able to find each other out there. We talked amongst ourselves beforehand and decided we wanted this more than anything, and we went out there and we did it.
“We just gave it everything we had. It was our last game (of junior eligibility), and we wanted to make it a memorable one.”
The Pilots certainly peaked at the right time – coming off a dramatic double-overtime win over the Victoria Cougars at the Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial championship, they out-scored their opponents 35-6 over the course of five victories at the Western Canadians.
Their lone misstep at the Keystone Cup came at the end of the round robin, when they dropped an 8-1 decision to the Whitecourt Wolverines on Saturday evening. But that game was meaningless to the Pilots since they’d already clinched a spot in the final; moreover, it was their second game of the day, and head coach Jim Cowden rested his stars.
“The whole weekend, we played well,” Cowden said. “Our skill took over. We were probably the most skilled team, and our 20-year-olds were fantastic.
“We came here, and the team was ready to go. They motivated themselves, and you could tell they were ready to go from the opening puck-drop.”
Pilots captain Brett Kolins said his team’s dominant performance at the Keystone Cup was simply a carry-over of the momentum they built up at the Cyclone Taylor Cup.
“We’d been plugging away at provincials last week, and we came here and nothing changed,” he analyzed. “We came to the rink, came prepared, and got it done.
“We stuck together as a team through thick and thin, and it feels unbelievable.”