SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — They came into the weeklong Telus Cup tournament as the defending champions.
And they left Sunday as the national champions.
The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs successfully defended their 2012 national championship by defeating the Ottawa Junior 67’s 5-0 in the final Sunday afternoon.
Rory Davidson of Delburne is one of just three players who were members of both national-championship teams, joining captain Quinn Brown and goaltender Matt Zentner.
For the second straight year, a Big Valley boy is part of Red Deer’s championship mix. Logan Hermus played defence with the Chiefs, whose lineup last season included Ty Mappin.
In a game broadcast nationally on TSN, Red Deer dominated Ottawa to take the title against the team the Chiefs had tied 2-2 on Friday morning.
But this time around, the Chiefs were able to solve Ottawa goaltender Simon Hofley, while Zentner was perfect between the posts as he made 27 saves for the shutout.
“To get the shutout makes it special, but the only thing that matters is that we won,” Zentner said. “I don’t even know what to say.”
The Chiefs took the lead with three minutes remaining in the first period when Chase Thudium found a rebound at the left side of the goal and scored on the power play.
“It was exciting,” Thudium said. “I almost missed it, but I got a second chance. It was a big goal. It was huge. Everybody was nervous off the start, and we knew whoever scored that first goal was going to have a good chance at winning. So it was definitely a big one.”
Red Deer started to pull away in the second period.
Trey DeGraaf scored on a wrap-around three minutes into the period, and just more than a minute later, Ryker Leer skated in on a partial breakaway and fired a shot that beat Hofley over the blocker.
With five minutes remaining in the second period, Chris Gerrie took a pass on a three-on-one break and made it 4-0 when his shot deflected in off Hofley’s glove.
After two periods, Red Deer outshot Ottawa 41-19.
Ian McLellan added the final goal with six minutes remaining in the third period on a quick shot from the slot that found the top right corner.
Chiefs coach Doug Quinn emphasized the importance of converting opportunities into goals to build a comfortable lead in the second period.
“We’ve always had a hard time scoring goals,” Quinn said. “We usually get enough shots, but it was nice to get a couple goals there and get a little bit of a cushion. I really didn’t relax until probably the last five minutes.”
Quinn said his team showed character in battling adversity all season, including being nearly eliminated in the round-robin portion of the Telus Cup.
“When their backs were against the wall, they just seemed to step up and come together,” he said. “It’s a really special group. This group just came together and just wore teams out. We had depth, a lot of speed and I thought that even in today’s game, we weren’t tiring out.”
Ottawa coach Travis Crickard expressed his appreciation for his team’s effort in the loss.
“They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do this year in terms of game-plan execution, but it just sucks that today they didn’t execute,” Crickard said.
“They have nothing to hang their heads about, because they’ve accomplished a lot this year. They need to be proud of what they’ve done.”
Looking back on the tournament, Zentner said there were times when things became stressful. He said he couldn’t describe the feeling of being a national champion — twice.
“It’s been surreal,” he said. “It went by so fast, but it’s been hard at times. Sometimes it feels like you can’t get a break, and when you do you’re on top of the world, and that’s how it feels right now.”
The Chiefs reached the final with a 5-1 win over the Saskatoon Contacts in Saturday’s semifinal. Gerrie scored twice, with Thudium, Colton Bobyk and Jacob Schofield adding one each. Zentner made 23 saves. … The 67’s advanced with a 4-1 win over Laval-Montreal, which defeated Saskatoon 3-2 in the bronze-medal game. … Red Deer’s Gabe Bast was named top defenceman in the tournament.
— Red Deer Advocate