Thanks to a winning weekend, the Aurora Tigers captured the RBC Royal Bank Cup May 16 at the Crystal Centre in Grande Prairie, AB.
After compiling a 3-1 record in the round-robin, the Tigers downed the Nepean Raiders 7-2 in semifinal action on Saturday and then trounced the Kindersley Klippers 7-1 in the championship final on Sunday.
It was time ever that an Ontario team has captured the Royal Bank Cup since the RBC Financial Group became the title sponsor of Canada’s National Junior A Hockey Championship in 1996. Prior to that, the championship was known as the Centennial Cup and the last Ontario team to win it was the Thunder Bay Flyers in 1992.
" Our league hasn’t gotten much respect when it’s come out to this tournament," Aurora coach Marty Williamson said. "When we won our league, everybody came to us and said ‘bring it back to Ontario’ and we really wanted to because we’ve got good teams out there and this team sure is one of them."
Aurora dominated the final game from start to finish, outshooting the Klippers 57-22. Francis Walker paced the Tigers’ attack with a two goals and an assist, while Sean Scully scored once and set up two others. Defenceman Mike Kostka chipped in with a goal and an assist, while Jesse Olden, Andrew Hotham and Michael Tonelli also scored.
" We were able to come in here, stick to our game plan and come out on top," Scully said. "You don’t want to come all this way to lose the final game. Everybody came out and played hard and wanted this right from the start."
After struggling to beat Nepean 3-1 in the round-robin on Thursday, Aurora poured on the pressure during their semifinal win over the Raiders.
" It seemed to be one of those games that the puck was going in for us," said Williamson. "We got some seeing-eye goals."
The line of Walker, Bahen and Scully combined for eight points to sink the Raiders. Walker scored twice and set up another, Bahen had a goal and a helper, while Scully counted a goal and an assist.
" I’m pretty much the hard working guy on our line and the other two are pretty skilled," Bahen said. "I give a lot of credit to them because they put the puck in the net. I just work in the corners."
The talented trio, all of whom turned 21 in January, boast a host of experience.
" We’ve got a lot of experience," Bahen said. "We play in pressure situations and we really bear down in those situations."
While Scully played three seasons with the Ottawa 67’s and won an Ontario Hockey League championship in 2000-01, both Bahen and Walker have previously competed for the National Junior A Championship.
As a 16-year-old rookie, Bahen played for the Thornhill Rattlers when they qualified for the Royal Bank Cup in Flin Flon, MB.
" We really didn’t come to play," he said, noting the Rattlers lost all four of their games. "We were undisciplined."
This is Walker’s third straight national championship having played previously for the host Charlottetown Abbies, who went 1-3 at the 2003 Royal Bank Cup, and for the Ottawa Jr. Senators, who lost 9-7 in the semifinals of the 2002 Royal Bank Cup to the host Halifax Oland Exports.
" I want to do it this year," Walker said after the semifinal victory. "I’ve been waiting three years, so hopefully we’ll have a good game tomorrow and be able to go home with something special."
After the game, Walker was grinning from ear to ear while skating around the ice snapping photos with his disposable camera and getting his picture taken with various teammates.
" The third time’s a charm, that’s what they say," Walker said. "It’s pretty exciting right now."
Despite the lopsided loss, Williamson commended the Klippers on their effort at the event.
" Kindersley had a great tournament," he said. "They never quit."
To reach the championship game, the Klippers had to stave off elimination on five separate occasions. After defeating the Weyburn Red Wings in six games to win the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League title, the Klippers fell behind three-games-to-one to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League champion Selkirk Steelers in the Anavet Cup. That’s when they decided to insert netminder Kevin Dziaduck into the lineup, who they picked up for the regional and national tournaments from the Yorkton Terriers.
Dziaduck backstopped the Klippers to three straight victories and a berth in the RBC Royal Bank Cup, where he earned accolades as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. That was in large part to his 5-3 performance during a 4-2 victory over the Nanaimo Clippers on Thursday. That win eliminated Nanaimo from the tournament and earned Kindersley a semifinal date against the host Grande Prairie Storm on Saturday.
" He’s just unbelievable," Kindersley forward Casey Lee said. "We picked him up for a reason. MVP of the RBC, that says all it right there."
After spotting the Storm an early two-goal lead, Kindersley rebounded to tie the game 2-2 heading into the first intermission. Grande Prairie then led 3-2 after the second before Jason Fleck scored at 3:22 of the third to tie the contest.
" We weathered the Storm, so to speak, in that first period," Kindersley coach Dave Hunchak said. "We felt that if we could get that first one early in the third period, we had a chance to win this thing."
Fleck then set up Lee for the game winner with 35.5 seconds left in the game.
" It was just kind of a garbage goal," Lee said. "There was a scramble at the right side of our offensive zone. The puck squirted out to Jesse Fischer and he saw me back door and it was easy. I just had to deflect it into the net."
For Fleck, setting up the game winner gave him a chance to return to the Royal Bank Cup final for the second straight season. Last year, he played for the AJHL champion Camrose Kodiaks, who came out on the losing end of a 3-1 decision to the Humboldt Broncos in the championship game.
" You’re definitely thankful for the chance to go for it again," said the 20-year-old forward. "I guess it’s that little extra motivation. You always feel like whenever you lose in a final that you let it slip away."
But, for the second straight season, Fleck had to settle for another silver medal performance at the RBC Royal Bank Cup.
" It’s a very tough loss to swallow right now," said Fleck, who scored the lone goal for the Klippers in the championship final. "Three or four months down the road you see yourselves as the second best team in Canada, not losing the finals. Not too many people get to this tournament once. Two second place finishes is a very good thing."