While multiple snowfalls and frigid temperatures made for hockey weather outside the Stettler Recreation Centre last weekend, the Stettler Storm prevailed inside the rink.
The Storm lived up to their name and won the provincial bantam A hockey championship on home ice Sunday. They went through the four-day tournament unbeaten in six games, including a 5-3 victory over the Okotoks Oilers in the gold-medal match.
“It’s amazing,” said Storm assistant captain Quade Cassidy, still in full gear as the post-game celebration extended into Sunday evening.
“There’s nothing that could beat this. It’s awesome. I can’t believe we actually won it in our hometown. We’re all so excited and everyone is congratulating us. It’s just great.”
It’s been that kind of season for the Storm, the class of the North Central Minor Hockey Association bantam A league this season and most certainly not a token host of the 10-team provincial championship.
Indeed, the championship hats and gold medals were a good fit for the Storm, whose provincial playoff attire included souvenir hoodies and matching track pants.
Storm centre Jordan Lee planned to proudly wear his “gold hat” and hoodie to school Monday.
“It’s going to be lots of fun,” said Lee, a Grade 9 student at William E. Hay Composite High School.
In front of hundreds of hometown fans, the Storm had plenty of fun Sunday, which began with their 3-2 semifinal victory over the Olds Grizzlys.
In the other semifinal, Okotoks came back from a 3-0 deficit and defeated the Whitecourt Wolverines 4-3 in double overtime. Including 25 minutes of overtime, that game didn’t end until noon, three hours before the final.
In between the playoff games Sunday, the Storm settled into the relative comfort of their own homes — as they did all weekend.
“We get to sleep in our own beds,” said Lee, 14. “That’s an advantage. I think that’s one of the things that helped us out. As well, they (the Oilers) were a little tired.
“Between games, we had some roast beef upstairs (in the Stettler Recreation Centre), and I went home and just watched some TV — the Penguins-Bruins game.”
Akin to the NHL brand, Lee and his teammates played sound, fundamental hockey — the kind that has befuddled their opponents all season long.
“Our speed and our creativity (stand out),” Lee said. “And it’s just a great bunch of guys to play hockey with. Lots of fun.”
He said head coach Rory Rost masterfully motivated the players throughout the season and they gained momentum from a dominant run that saw Stettler go 16-2-2 in league play and win the Zone 7 championship en route to the provincials.
In the words of their provincial gold-medal adversaries, the Storm were a well-oiled machine Sunday.
“They’re pretty deep,” said Okotoks coach Ted Stewart. “It’s hard to find any chinks out there.
“The (5-3) score probably flattered us a little bit today (in the final). I mean, our guys battled hard this morning. We were maybe a little bit battle-weary this afternoon, but we hung around.
“Stettler is well-coached — better-coached than the (Whitecourt) team we played this morning, so we could create a little bit (in the semifinal) because of that. But this afternoon, Stettler’s D (defence) was strong. They were good. (The Storm) were too much for our defence today.”
Stettler outshot Okotoks 44-24. The Storm led 3-0 midway through the game, but the Oilers scored three of the next four goals to cut the Stettler lead to 4-3 after two periods.
The score stayed that way until Tye Mulgrove’s second goal of the game with 3:03 left gave Stettler all the insurance it needed.
With 1:15 remaining, the Oilers put goaltender Pierre Wiederhold on the bench in favour of an extra skater, but they also had to kill a penalty for the final 36 seconds.
It was a four-point finale for the small-but-mighty Mulgrove, who returned to action in time for the tournament after being sidelined with a broken collarbone.
Hard-nosed winger Mark Bengert also collected two goals and two assists for Stettler. He got things started late in the first period when he redirected a Brett Coleman point shot. Cassidy scored the other Storm goal and Lee added two assists. Workhorse goaltender Ben Bauman, who played every minute for Stettler, made 21 saves in the final.
Curtis Belbin tallied twice for Okotoks and assisted on Tyler Ziehl’s goal.
In preliminary play, Stettler won three straight games before tying Whitecourt 4-4 in their final Pool A game Saturday evening. Whitecourt also had three wins and a tie, entering the playoff round.
In Pool B action, Okotoks won three games and lost 5-2 to Olds, which also posted a 3-1 record.
Rost said he and assistant coaches Craig Spady, Les Ternes and Malcolm Starling were fortunate to work with a mature group of Stettler-area teenagers.
“The boys played unbelievably all weekend and there’s not much more to say than that,” Rost said. “As coaches, we’re just a small part of it. We’re just here for the ride, and really enjoyed it, for sure.
“I actually said to the boys, ‘I don’t need to go to Disneyland. I’m on a rollercoaster right now.’ There’s lots of highs and lows and ups and downs, but we tried to keep the boys fairly even-keeled. Every game was one step. We emphasized, ‘That’s one step, but we’ve got a little more work to do.’
“But the work is done.”
While the work is done on the provincial front, the Storm are trying to finish the season with a North Central championship. Last night at home, they were scheduled to host Sylvan Lake in the first game of the best-of-three league final. Game 2 goes tonight at Sylvan Lake.
A third game, if necessary, would be played next Monday night in Stettler.
The season ended prematurely for Stettler defenceman and assistant captain Cayden Spady, who suffered a broken collarbone in a snowmobiling accident on the eve of the provincials.
The Storm lost forward Jeff Ternes in the semifinal Sunday morning. He left the game with a knee injury.
“We were playing hard for Jeff and Cayden,” Cassidy said. “We missed those guys.”
The Oilers missed a key cog in defenceman Jace Westin, who was sidelined in the first overtime period of their semifinal marathon.
“He hadn’t played for three weeks and just came back (for the tournament),” Stewart said of Westin. “He had a broken collarbone and it probably wasn’t quite healed, but he wanted to play. We were a little short-benched after he got hurt. Certainly, he’s one of our leaders back there.
“But, they (the Storm) were just better than us. Flat out, they beat us. We needed to be better and we couldn’t find any energy. They didn’t give us any opportunity to create energy. Our strength is getting the puck deep and working a cycle. We couldn’t create any pressure. They move the puck quick, and we couldn’t create any turnovers. There you have it — 5-3.”
As he has done all season, Bauman carried the mail in the Stettler net. The Storm don’t have a backup, so they enlisted the services of Stettler bantam B goalie Will Roberts for their two playoff games Sunday. After returning home from the bantam B provincials at Slave Lake on Saturday night, Roberts dressed as the A team’s backup.
Bauman’s performance typified that of all the Storm players, Rost said.
“I’ll go up and down the line, and where do I start and where do I stop? We got an effort and a contribution from all 18 kids this weekend.
“It was a wonderful weekend.”
Stettler 3 Olds 2 — Storm captain Matt Sylvester netted two goals, including the winner. Quade Cassidy also scored for Stettler, which trailed 1-0 after the first period but took a 3-1 lead after scoring a pair of four-on-four goals 14 seconds apart six minutes into the third.
After those Storm goals, the Grizzlys replaced starting goaltender Spencer Bearchell with Levi Mitchell. They faced a combined 27 shots.
Alan Klinck’s goal brought Olds to within one with 2:22 left. Klinck assisted on Matthew Gaudette’s opening goal.
Ben Bauman blocked 33 shots for Stettler, which staved off penalty trouble in the final 10 minutes.
POOL A PLAY
Stettler 4 Whitecourt 4 — Storm defenceman Drew Cassidy scored two second-period goals Saturday evening in the final preliminary round game for both teams.
Matt Sylvester and Quade Cassidy tallied in the third as Stettler bounced back from a 4-2 deficit. Stettler goaltender Ben Bauman recorded 35 stops.
Stettler 7 Lloydminster 4 — Mark Bengert had a pair of Stettler goals Saturday, and singles went to Jeff Ternes, Brendan Bardwell, Quade Cassidy, Jackson Zimmermann and Tye Mulgrove. Jordan Lee bagged three assists.
Stettler 6 Beaumont 3 — Jackson Zimmermann potted two goals and set up another Friday as the Storm outscored the Braves 3-0 in the final period. Defenceman Paul du Toit scored the winning goal. Jeff Ternes, Brendan Bardwell and Jordan Lee had the other Stettler goals. Matt Sylvester collected three assists, and Quade Cassidy and Euan Hanton had two each.
Stettler 8 Edmonton 0 — The Storm outshot the KC Sabres 64-8 and got goals from eight players Thursday — Jordan Lee, Brendan Pederson, Quade Cassidy, Ethan Rost, Mark Bengert, Brendan Bardwell, Brett Coleman and Cole Pedersen. Matt Sylvester registered three assists and Bardwell and Pedersen each added a couple of helpers.