The Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League are the 2003 Royal Bank Cup champions.
The Broncos defeated the Camrose Kodiaks in a defense-minded game to win their first national championship.
Goaltending was the difference in a close game, said Broncos captain Mike Brown who scored a pair of goals in the game.
“Goaltending and our defense, if it wasn’t for our defensive-mindedness at the end I don’t think we would have gone out with a win,” said Brown.
Broncos’ goaltender Sean Connors said it was a team effort that won it.
“I thought tonight we played a solid Humboldt Bronco hockey game. We didn’t do anything too fancy, when the puck was in our end we stayed calm and got it out and that’s what won us the hockey game,” said Connors, who gave credit to the Kodiaks.
“I thought Camrose played a very good game, they’re a great hockey team and I think this came could have gone either way,” he said. “They beat us 5-3 in the round-robin and we knew they were going to be tough.”
Both Brown and Connors were playing in their last junior hockey game and were going to do everything in their power to win the game.
“I knew this was going to be my last game of junior hockey so I came into it with the attitude that I knew it was going to be my last game no matter what happened, so I was pushing extra hard to get up there and help my team,” said Brown, surrounded by Humboldt fans who made the trip to Charlottetown.
Connors described it as the best feeling he’s had in sports. “This is unbelievable, I can’t even describe this feeling, I’ve been playing junior hockey for five years and to wrap it up like this…it doesn’t get any better,” said Connors.
It was also the last junior game for the Kodiaks’ captain Jordan Chomack and Mark Szott, members of the 2001 Royal Bank Cup champions. Both players are proud of their teammates’ efforts.
“It’s been a long season and we’ve battled through a tremendous amount of adversity this year and it’s an honour to be here and be in the finals because there are only two teams here at the end of the year, playing for the cup and we’re on of them,” said Chomack.
Szott offered some advice to the new champions following the game.
“Enjoy it, I’ve been lucky enough to come here twice but most people don’t even get to come here once, so enjoy it and realize what you’ve won because 130 teams are trying to get to where you are,” he said.
Despite the loss Camrose has reason to look forward to next year, trying to make their third final in four championships.
“We set the bar for next year, we have goals for next year starting today I guess, now we just build from there,” said Szott.
It was a hard-hitting first period with both teams struggling to establish an early lead.
The first chance of the game about five minutes in when Scott Stewart directed a backhand shot at Humboldt goaltender Sean Connors from four feet out, a shot he easily stopped.
The Broncos were the first to score, just six minutes in, as captain Matt Brown elected to shoot on a two-on-one. Kodiak goalie Mike Brodeur made the initial save with some difficulty before giving up the rebound, which Brown put over the fallen netminder.
Ten minutes later Humboldt added to their lead on a blue line slap shot from Kris Kasper that beat Brodeur along the ice in the bottom corner, glove side.
Momentum was with the Broncos until 18:51 in when Bronco defenseman Rick Freese was called for hooking, giving the Kodiaks a chance to close the gap to one, late, which is exactly what they did.
One minute into the man-advantage, Kodiaks’ Matt McKnight took a pass setting him up alone in front of Connors, giving him enough time to deke to the glove side and put it in the net. Shots for the period were 12-11 for Camrose.
Goaltending was the story of the second period as both teams were held off the score sheet
Both teams applied plenty of pressure on the power play, forcing the goaltenders to play much of the period screened as a total of seven penalties were called in the frame.
Humboldt controlled much of the play, outshooting Camrose 11-7.
The hard hitting theme continued throughout the third period, and the officials let them play.
Humboldt was content to clog the neutral zone to prevent any momentum by the Kodiaks.
The Broncos seemed to outplay the Kodiaks even though it was Camrose who needed to score to stay alive.
Orrin Hergott had the best chance for both teams, breaking in alone on Brodeur, hoping to cushion the lead. Brodeur followed Hergott move for move before making a paddle save along the ice on Hergott’s attempted deke.
Camrose pulled their goalie with 52 seconds left and were playing 6-on-4 hockey after Freese took a cross-checking penalty, but were unable to gain any significant chances before giving up an empty-net goal to Broncos’ captain Matt Brown with under one second left in the game.