All season, coach Jason Hegberg preached “work ethic and an honest effort” from the Stettler Storm peewee A hockey team.
Hegberg and company got that and more Sunday as the Storm put on their work boots and came from behind to win the provincial championship at Hinton.
In the gold-medal game, Stettler trailed 2-0 with seven minutes left, but rallied with two goals 16 seconds apart to force overtime, in which Talon Conner needed just 37 seconds to give the Storm a 3-2 win over the Peace River Colts — and an Alberta championship.
“Of course, down 2-0 with seven minutes to play, when we got that first one to make it 2-1, it really got some life back on our bench,” said Hegberg, also the president of the Stettler Minor Hockey Association.
“And the guys could see it coming. It was a pretty amazing finish for us, because we were down two-zip with seven minutes to go. I told the boys before we went out for the third period, ‘A 2-0 lead, boys, it’s the worst lead in hockey.’ I truly believed it, and I think our whole coaching staff did.
“I told them, ‘We’re going to go out and we’re going to win the hockey game 3-2.’ Lo and behold, they did it. It was a pretty neat feeling.”
The overtime hero was Conner, a second-year peewee centre who scored the tying goal just one shift after Alex De Young had put Stettler on the scoreboard.
“Talon played peewee B hockey last year, when he was new to the area,” Hegberg said of Conner. “He has a lot of skill and talent. He’s a big kid. He scored a lot of goals this year.
“He was hurt for about a month, with a broken collarbone, late in the season. He didn’t (return to the lineup) until we played Rocky in the league final, so he’s only been back for the last two weeks.”
Daylan Kuefler assisted on two of the Stettler goals, including the overtime marker, as the peewee A Storm factored in a banner month for Stettler minor hockey.
The association also produced provincial champions at the bantam A level — on home ice the previous weekend — and in the midget B championship Sunday night at Provost.
“Three provincial banners this year alone … yeah, pretty rare,” said Hegberg, who is in his first year as the Stettler minor hockey president.
“Three provincial banners and four league titles, plus we have another one possibly this week, with the midget Bs finishing out their season (in the North Central Minor Hockey Association).
“Either way, it’s been a pretty good year for Stettler. I’ve been getting lots of feedback and comments from people.
“Winning sure makes it a lot funner for everybody. As much as it’s supposed to be a sport of fair play and fun and all that, everybody has a competitive side to them and everybody wants to win, as much as they might tell you it’s just to go out and have fun, everybody gets pretty riled up at this time of year and wants to bring some kind of championship. I hope that if there’s any kids that feel like they’re maybe on the way out of the sport that maybe a win here or there can keep them in the sport for maybe another year or longer.”
The Stettler peewee A players were happy campers Sunday, which they began with a 3-1 semifinal victory over Rocky Mountain House, the same team that had swept the Storm in the North Central league final just a week earlier.
“Our guys were 100 per cent committed going into this weekend,” said Hegberg, whose storied playing days included years in the Western Hockey League, Canadian university and minor-pro.
“We had a real good year, but we had our down spurts. We could even tell from the first day of the tournament, our first game — even though we were a team all year — we became a unit of one. It was amazing to see our guys just compete together and believe in each other and believe in themselves.”
Hegberg credited captain James Switenky for leading that effort.
“He just stepped his game up tremendously for this tournament,” the coach said. “He was outstanding. He scored a few goals, but just his entire play throughout the weekend was outstanding. Great job in leading the team, and I think our guys fed off throughout the weekend.
“Davin Nattestad in net played some of his best hockey all year. He probably had his best game all year against Rocky in the semifinals.”
In that game, Conner, De Young and Switenky scored for Stettler, which had posted three wins and a tie in the preliminary round.
Stettler 6 Lethbridge 2 — Kuefler collected three goals and an assist to lead the Storm surge. Conner netted two goals, while Rhett Shingoose picked up a goal and two assists.
Stettler 4 Peace River 4 — In a preview of the final, Kuefler scored a pair of goals for Stettler, and Dawson Beck and Adam Shirley added one each. Peace River’s Tyrees Gorham scored the equalizer with 3:21 left in regulation time.
Stettler 4 Beaumont 1 — Austin Jacobson fired two goals and singles went to Conner and Kameron Bainbridge.
Stettler 3 Spruce Grove 0 — Shirley was the man of the hour as he scored all three goals. Bainbridge assisted on all of them.
Stettler ‘most sportsmanlike team’
Stettler not only earned gold medals, but also earned accolades for its sportsmanship.
Hegberg said the Storm were consistently recognized during the tournament for carrying themselves with class on and off the ice.
He shared a Facebook posting from tournament chairman Bill Mcdonald: “Congratulations go out to the Stettler Storm on taking gold at the 2013 Hinton peewee A provincials. Truly an amazing bunch of players, coaches and parents and grandparents. If hockey communities could carbon copy that of Stettler, we would truly have an amazing sport. Voted clearly the most sportsmanlike team … WOW!”