With a little help from his friends, Tristan Laughlin was the man of the hour last Wednesday as his money goal banked the midget B Stettler Storm the league banner.
Laughlin, a 16-year-old defenceman, jumped into the play and scored with 14.5 seconds left to give Stettler a 5-4 victory over the Rocky Mountain House Renegades and a 2-0 sweep of the best-of-three Tier 3 Grizzlies Division championship in the North Central Minor Hockey Association.
“There was a scramble in front of the net,” Laughlin recalled of the last-minute action at Eckville Arena. “Four of the Rocky guys were in front of their net, digging for the puck. (Stettler centre) Tanner Steinwand went behind the net to grab it and skated out by the circle. I was sitting wide open on the right side of the blue-line. Tanner passes it out to me, I skate through the slot and take a snapshot top corner.
“We had a good forecheck going, cycling it through the corner. Zack Werbowesky, Tanner Steinwand and Braydon Whiteford (were up front) and me and Levi Fisher were on the blue-line for those guys. They were cycling it really well and had (the Renegades) pinned down and they couldn’t get it out. We were all over them.”
In short order, the Storm players were “all over” Laughlin as they celebrated their second win in as many nights — not to mention a championship.
A third game would have been played Thursday in Stettler — where the Storm won the opener 9-1 — but it wasn’t necessary as they settled nicely into the rest of their school March break.
“I think we were all happy about that,” Laughlin, a Grade 10 student, said with a chuckle. “We won the first one, and then (we said), ‘OK, guys, let’s just go finish this right now. We’re just … too tired.’
“I think we were all pretty thrilled that we got the banner. Everyone signed it, and (coach) Keith (Werbowesky) has it for a while, and then it will hang in the arena.”
Coach Werbowesky said Laughlin’s heroics capped a memorable evening.
“It was a laser-beam shot to the top corner of the net,” Werbowesky said. “It was pretty exciting.”
The Storm made the most of a faceoff in the Rocky zone with less than two minutes left.
“I won the faceoff, and the puck went to Zack, and then it went into the corner and I picked it up and passed it back to Tristan, who was in the high slot, and he shot and scored,” said Steinwand, 15.
“I had just thrown it out into the front of the net to see what would happen. I was really happy and surprised that we scored. We waited till the final 14 seconds (were played) to really celebrate.”
Pride prevailed for the Storm, who are part of a Stettler association that saw three teams — midget A, bantam A and peewee A — win provincial championships this season.
“We weren’t good enough to go to provincials, but we were good enough to win our league banner,” Steinwand said. “So I thought that was pretty good for our team.”
Steinwand is a nephew of former NHL goaltender Bill Ranford — now the Los Angeles Kings’ goalie coach — and a cousin of Brendan Ranford, whose Kamloops Blazers advanced to the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs on Monday night.
“My uncle sends sticks for me to use,” said Steinwand, who plays bigger than his relatively small size.
The Grade 9 student was satisfied with his first season of midget hockey.
“It went pretty well, better than I thought it would,” he said.
Perhaps the same could be said for the Storm, who surged at playoff time.
One of coach Werbowesky’s strategies was to award a symbolic hard hat after each playoff game. It went to the team’s greatest contributor, who would sign the hat with a marker and wear it home.
Laughlin was the winner in the golden game, after which all of the Stettler players signed the hat in recognition of their collective effort.
“A couple of guys had already signed the hat, and I got to sign it and I wore it out after the final game,” Laughlin said. “Everybody signed it, ‘Great year.’
“It was really great. It was my first banner, my first year of midget. It was a great feeling to be the one that scored.”