By Craig Zamzow
for the Star and Times
On March 3-5, Swan River hosted the Hockey Manitoba - Cargill Atom A Provincials. The draw was a five-team round-robin and the two top teams would face off Sunday in the gold medal game.
The Stampeders opened with a Friday 11:15 a.m. game against the Carman Cougars.
Buoyed by incredible support by Heyes and Taylor School students, the club came out flying as Eli Betcher opened the scoring less than a minute in. The Cougars bounced back a minute later to tie the score.
Brady Burghart added two goals before Jackson Badowski stretched the lead to 4-1 before the end of the first period. Comrie Quill and Betcher added singles in the second and Carman countered with one of their own, as the Stamps carried a 6-2 lead into the second intermission.
Carman scored part way through the third, but Samantha Jo Moshenko closed the scoring for a 7-3 final for Swan Valley.
Following opening ceremonies Friday night, the Ste. Anne Aces would be the Stampeders next opponent.
Burghart would score twice in the opening period to give the hosts an early edge. The Aces replied two minutes into the second to cut the lead in half. Badowski would reply midway through the period to provide the Stamps with a 3-1 second intermission lead
Betcher, Kai Gorchynski, and Quill would score in the third for a 6-1 final.
On Saturday morning the remaining unbeaten teams matched up as Swan Valley and Virden brought in 2-0 records. The Oil Capitals came out flying, scoring on the first, second, and fourth shifts of the game to hold a 3-0 lead after one period.
Five minutes into the second Virden scored again to extend the lead to 4-0. 20 seconds later, Quill converted a greasy crease-crashing goal to get the Stampeders on the board. With less than two minutes left in the second, Badowski fired a wrister top shelf to cut the lead to 4-2 after two periods and take the teams to the intermission.
With just over 11 minutes left, Burghart created a turnover and buried a wrister to cut the lead to 4-3. Two minutes later, with the Stamps on the penalty kill, Burghart pick pocketed an Oil Cap defender and dangled in tight before burying another top corner, to tie the score.
With just under four minutes to play the Oil Caps found the twine to regain the lead at 5-4. With 90 seconds on the clock Betcher converted an in tight feed from Tavyn Boychuk to tie the score at 5. In a heartbreaking finish, the Oil Caps scored the winner with 39 seconds remaining.
Saturday night the Stampeders would face the winless Rivers Jets needing a win themselves to secure a spot in the Gold Medal Game.
After Owen Martyniuk carried the mail between the pipes in the first three games, affiliated player James Parsons picked up the start.
The Stampeders dominated the game in all facets from the start, led offensively by Quill and Maddix Eisner to pick up an 8-0 win.
In Sunday's Gold Medal game the home town Stampeders faced the Virden Oil Capitals, looking to avenge Saturday's loss.
The Oil Capitals again came out flying and 4 minutes in, opened the scoring on a top shelf shot. Two minutes later the Stampeders were able to clear a puck from a goal mouth scramble as far as the high slot, but Bryce Bryant (son of a Swan Valley girl) collected the loose puck and fired a rocket, through the mass of humanity in the slot, for a 2-0 lead.
With 8 minutes left in the first period (in what may have been the TSN Turning Point) Eli Betcher won an offensive zone face off back to Andrew Pidskalny. He got a good shot to the net where Quill had positioned himself in his office with an eclipse-like screen of the goalie, as the puck found the back of the net to cut the lead in half.
The first period ended with the Oil Capitals holding a 2-1 lead.
Early in the second period Stampeder defenders Grace Kirk and Crystal Zamzow were banged up after blocking slapshots, forcing stalwarts Badowski and Pidskalny to pace themselves as they saw even more ice time than usual.
Five minutes into the second, Burghart beat two defenders and found the top shelf to tie the score at 2-2.
Two minutes later Moshenko fed Pidskalny at the point, and his wrister to the net was deftly deflected by Burghart to give the Stampeders their first lead.
With three minutes left in the second Christian Hart fired a shot to the net and once again Burghart was ‘Johnny on the spot’ to deflect the puck past the Virden netminder for his hat trick and a 4-2 lead.
A shift later Tucker Thompson broke into the offensive zone on his off wing and fired a trademark ‘Mark Messier’ snapshot towards the net. The shot was too much for the Oil Capitals netminder to handle cleanly, and Betcher swatted the rebound out of mid-air for a 5-2 lead.
Just when the impressive crowd was starting to feel comfortable, the Oil Capitals sniper Bryant converted on a goal mouth scramble for his second goal of the game. The clubs headed to the dressing room with the Stampeders holding a 5-3 lead.
The Stampeders trademark stingy defensive play and strong goaltending was enough to thwart Oil Capital offensive attacks for most of the third period. With five minutes remaining the provincials scoring champ (Bryant) benefitted from an aggressive forecheck and fed a cross-crease pass that was deflected home to cut the lead to 5-4.
The Oil Caps pushed hard for the tying goal, but with just under three minutes remaining, fittingly Burghart created a neutral zone turnover, beat two defenders and buried a wrister high over the blocker to seal the provincial title for the Stampeders.
The win completed back to back Atom A provincial titles for the Stampeders, and it was great to see so many of last year's champs cheering on their former teammates.
The club finishes their season with a 24-8-1 record and a storybook ending for the group of nine and 10 year old athletes, winning provincials at home in front of their family, friends, and supporters.