It took six periods, 93 minutes and more than a few heart stopping close calls, but in the end the Red Deer Vipers left the Collicutt Centre as champions.
For the first time since 2004, the Vipers lifted the Heritage Junior B Hockey League championship trophy after Kale Lapointe’s triple overtime winner clinched a 4-3 victory over the visiting Cochrane Generals in front of a packed house on Thursday night.
“Really I didn’t have much legs left so I was just going to the net with my stick down, the puck came to me. I didn’t even see it go in. I just shot and then got mauled,” said Lapointe, whose second goal of the night allowed the home team to recover from seeing a 3-1 lead melt away in the third period on a pair of goals by Cochrane sniper Connor Rendell.
“We blew the 3-1 lead going into the third and I was like ‘uh-oh here we go.’ But we pulled it off and I’m on top of the world. It’s a good send off for the 21-year-olds,” Lapointe said.
Vipers’ goaltender Branden Bilodeau came up huge for his team when they needed him most, turning aside 51 of 54 shots fired his way, including a couple of huge game saving stops in OT.
Red Deer Vipers’ Head Coach J.D. Morrical said winning the championship is a huge momentum booster as the team prepares to head to provincials in St. Paul next weekend.
“We were talking in the coach’s room that if we can win it right now in overtime, what a good way to go into provincials. We wanted to win it at home, no matter what it was our last home game. It was a perfect finish.”
For Red Deer, the win over the Generals was the culmination of an impressive playoff run that has seen them overcome each of the top three teams in the league on their way to the fourth league title in franchise history.
“We knew it was going to be tough. We beat Airdrie, they were number three ranked, we beat Mountainview, they were number two ranked and this was the next step and it was just awesome to see. We got hot at the right time and hopefully we can keep it going in the next couple of weekends,” said Morrical of the journey, adding that winning in overtime makes it that much better.
“It’s been an absolute battle from the start of the series until now. We haven’t really been in any overtime games this whole playoffs. The first game of the Mountainview series, that was it, so we were a little nervous. We knew Cochrane’s been in a few and once we got through the first two we knew it would be a lucky break, a bounce in front of the net and we just kind of stuck to the plan. It was just a good finish, it was awesome.”
Both the Vipers and Generals will now turn their attention towards the provincial tournament, which will pit the top Junior B teams in Alberta against each other as they compete for the Russ Barnes Trophy.
The winner of that tournament will then move on to compete for the Keystone Cup, Canada’s national Junior B championship.