Delburne’s Davidson nets Chiefs’ title-winning goal

Rory Davidson’s red playoff mohawk might be fading, but his true colours are in full vogue as the Telus Cup march continues.

Rory Davidson of Delburne embraces his sisters and mother during post-game celebrations Saturday at the Red Deer Arena

Rory Davidson of Delburne embraces his sisters and mother during post-game celebrations Saturday at the Red Deer Arena

Rory Davidson’s red playoff mohawk might be fading, but his true colours are in full vogue as the Telus Cup march continues.

The diminutive Delburne centre stood tall Saturday as he scored the only goal in the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs’ 1-0 win over the SSAC Athletics of Edmonton in the fifth and deciding game of the Alberta Midget Hockey League final.

More than 1,200 fans showed up at Red Deer Arena as the Chiefs celebrated Easter weekend with a fourth straight league championship.

Just three players are back from the Red Deer team that won the Telus Cup national championship last season, when the club was better known as the Optimist Rebels.

One of those returnees is Davidson, who pounced on a loose puck with 3:56 left in Saturday’s game to net the momentous goal against Jordan Papirny, a rock in stopping 40 shots.

“It was definitely the biggest goal of my career,” said the 17-year-old Davidson, five-foot-eight and 145 pounds.

“We knew it was going to come. We were pushing all game. We were getting the shots on net, and sooner or later, one was going to go by and we were going to get that bounce. I just lucked out and it happened to be me.”

Papirny, a first-round draft pick of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, appeared to make an initial save on the play, but Davidson’s persistence paid off.

“Dustin Gorgi picked up the puck and walked in,” he said. “The goalie kind of followed him out of the net as he went around. He just threw it back out front and it stopped in front of the net, and the puck came right to me. I just made sure it went into a wide-open net.

“It had kind of got stuck in the goalie, and I just pulled it out and shot it in.”

Papirny said the Chiefs were relentless in their attack, and it eventually paid off.

“They just threw the puck on net, which clearly worked on their one goal,” he said. “(Gorgi) just fired it on net, it took a weird bounce and (Davidson) tapped it in there.

“They were just putting pucks to the net and they were playing tight defensively, too, which we couldn’t really handle.

“It’s a tough one to handle, but I thought we had a helluva series. That’s what I’m proud about. It was a wild ride. It sucks we didn’t get our way, but what can you do.”

The series-winning puck was to be mounted in the Chiefs’ dressing room as another keepsake in a long line of team achievements.

This weekend, the Chiefs visit a familiar foe in the Vancouver Northwest Giants for the best-of-three Pacific region championship and a berth in the Telus Cup later this month at Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Davidson, a hard-working, two-way player, also scored a key goal against the UFA Bisons in the second round of the playoffs, a South Division semifinal.

“Probably the only thing that (last Saturday’s goal) would have compared to is Game 3 against the Bisons this year,” he said. “We were coming off a tough loss and their goalie (Richard Palmer) was pretty hot. It was my first shift of the game and I picked up the puck and I went down and I beat him on the first shot of the game. It kind of helped us, because it took away all the confidence that he had built up last game. It gave us an opportunity to win.”

The Chiefs won 7-2 and went on to take that series in four games.

In the South final, Red Deer defeated the Calgary Buffaloes 3-2 in a series that went the limit.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling that we have a chance to repeat and another chance at the Telus Cup, with Pacifics coming up now,” said the well-spoken Davidson, who lives with his family in Delburne but attends Grade 12 at Hunting Hills High School in Red Deer.

“With only three returning players from last year, people were pretty skeptical at the start of the season as to whether we would be able to … come back and continue to try and hold our title. But as the season went on, we came around. We had lots of good players come in and we were able to compete and in the end win our (league) title back.”

Red Deer’s other returning players were captain Quinn Brown on defence and goaltender Matt Zentner, who posted shutouts in all three Red Deer victories in the final.

Davidson’s family joined him on the ice Saturday afternoon for an extended postgame celebration that included plenty of photos. He said his family life on the farm has influenced his performance on the ice.

“It gives you a good work ethic and it keeps you on your toes,” he said. “It helps you make the right decision in tough times.”

The Chiefs handled adversity as they were dogged with injuries during the playoffs.

“Last year, I thought, was a lot easier on ourselves,” Davidson said in comparing the post-season runs.

“During the playoffs last season, we had this confidence going in that we knew we were going to win every game. Whereas this year, we had faced some adversity. We had lost our two top D-men (Gabe Bast and Colton Bobyk) and then we had a few other injuries throughout playoffs, so we had faced a lot of adversity. And in order to overcome that adversity and win this year just made it that much more special.”

Davidson and teammate Logan Hermus, a Big Valley native now living in Red Deer, shared a similar experience a couple of years ago when they won the provincial bantam AA championship with the Kneehill Chiefs. That Three Hills-based team included Big Valley’s Ty Mappin, a high-scoring rookie with Red Deer’s midget AAA national champion last season and now a member of the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips.

Next season, Davidson hopes to step up to junior A hockey and remain on track for a potential NCAA career. He sampled the Alberta Junior Hockey League last fall during a stint with the Drumheller Dragons.