The one bump along the way at the Keystone Cup eventually derailed the Beaver Valley Nitehawks’ hopes of a Western Canadian title.
After opening the tournament in Arborg, Man., on Thursday with a 3-3 draw against Alberta’s Wainwright Bisons, the Nitehawks obliterated the rest of the field en route to a spot in Sunday’s final.
However, the one team they didn’t beat, Wainwright, was also waiting for a shot at gold. And this time the game wasn’t going to be settled with a draw.
In fact, it took an extra period to decide a champion as Wainwright pulled out a 4-3 overtime win to claim the Keystone Cup.
Wainwright’s Bryce Woodward slipped the puck past Beaver Valley goaltender Tallon Kramer with three minutes left in the first 10-minute overtime period to lift the Bisons to the title.
“It was a typical overtime goal,” said coach Jamie Cominotto. “They put the puck on the net and got a guy in there for the rebound and were able to put in.
It was a crushing end to a near-perfect tournament for the Hawks. However, the Bisons proved to be the one team that could match Beaver Valley.
“You have to give them credit,” said Cominotto. “They had a pretty good team and played two lines pretty consistently throughout both games we played them.
They just got the bounce and we didn’t.”
Jaxen Gemmell spotted Beaver Valley a 1-0 lead midway through the first period but Wainwright answered to end the opening frame knotted at 1-1.
Wainwright came on strong in Period 2 with two goals including one in the final minute to carry a 3-1 lead into the third.
But the Nitehawks weren’t about to go down quietly after traveling over 1,700 kilometres to compete for a western title.
“We were down but never out of it by any means,” said Cominotto.
Sam Swanson, on the power play, and Dylan Heppler 30 seconds later suddenly had Beaver Valley back on even terms with 18 minutes to play in regulation time.
Tallon meanwhile kept the Bisons at bay stopping 17 shots in the final frame to force overtime.
Both teams managed seven shots on goal in the extra frame with Beaver Valley getting the lone power play opportunity. But just after successfully killing off that penalty, Wainwright struck with the golden goal.
It was a tough way to end a brilliant season for the Nitehawks, which included a KIJHL and B.C. title.
“The guys played hard,” agreed Cominotto.
“That was 10 games in 11 days dating back to the Cyclone Taylor Cup and the guys just battled through it all, adversity, injuries, anything you could imagine.
“The whole season had highlights throughout, it was more than just the hockey and I think that’s what hurts the most.
“We were so close and we really were a family. Yes losing sucks but we’re like brothers and that’s what hurts more.”
While Wainwright took home gold, there was no doubt Beaver Valley was the class of the round robin play.
After the 3-3 draw against Wainwright to open the tournament on Thursday, the Nitehawks dominated the field.
Friday the team played two games and outscored their opponents 19-3.
Friday morning, Beaver Valley unleashed 70 shots on goal as they steamrolled the host Arborg Ice Dawgs 9-1.
Dylan Heppler had four points on two goals and two assists. Tyler Ghirardosi and Blake Sidoni each scored twice in the rout.
Later that day, four third-period goals propelled Beaver Valley to a 10-2 win over Ontario’s Nipigon Elks.
Jaxen Gemmell had two goals and three assists for a five-point game while Ghirardosi and Heppler each picked up three points.
Owen Sikkes took over between the pipes and chalked up the win in his first action of the Keystone Cup.
Saturday’s crucial games saw Beaver Valley take its play to another level.
They handed the previously-unbeaten Extreme Hockey Regina Capitals a 6-1 defeat thanks to three goals in the second period that vaulted them from a 1-0 lead to a 4-1 advantage heading into the final 20 minutes.
Tyler Hartman had a goal and two assists and Kramer was back in goal stopping 27 of 28 shots.
The Nitehawks clinched their spot in the championship game Saturday night with another convincing win, this time 8-2 over Manitoba’s Peguis Juniors.
Mitch Foyle and Ghirardosi each had two goals and an assist. Beaver Valley outshot Peguis 45-15 allowing goaltender Sikkes a quiet night tending the Hawks’ cage.
The win left Beaver Valley in first after round robin play with four wins, one tie and outscoring their opponents 36-9.