It was a dramatic finish to a week of great hockey in Red Deer.
After a long road, and an epic winning streak, the London Knights are the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup champions as they triumphed over the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 3-2 in overtime in the final game on Sunday afternoon.
“I couldn’t really see it go in because it was kind of pulled around a guy, but when everybody started cheering good things are going to happen,” laughed Knights’ Head Coach Dale Hunter during the post-game celebrations.
The Knights’ romp to the Cup came to its seemingly inevitable conclusion after a hard fought three periods of back and forth hockey.
It was a true goaltenders’ duel for the majority of the game. Both teams had their chances but neither team could best the other’s keeper.
On London’s side of the ice, Tyler Parsons continued his outstanding play, getting in front of 31 of the 33 pucks directed his way. On the Huskies’ side Brad Marchand was just as good, stopping 28 of 31.
The game remained scoreless until halfway through the second period, when Matthew Tkachuck managed to put it past Marchand to give the Knights their first lead.
It didn’t take long for Rouyn-Noranda to respond, though. Just 20 seconds later, Huskies’ captain Francis Perron found the twine behind Parsons to tie it all up at one goal apiece.
Halfway through the third, the Huskies were back at it again, this time it was Julien Nantel that finished the play to make it 2-1 London.
It was the first and only time the Knights found themselves trailing in the tournament.
“You’ve just got to keep the same mindset. You know, being down in the third period and coming back we knew what we had to do – bear down. It’s our last game of the season and leave everything on the line,” Parsons said after the game.
And the Knights delivered as co-captain Christian Dvorak potted his tournament-high seventh goal to tie it up with just five minutes remaining in the third. We were going to overtime.
“We had the momentum on our side, getting that last minute goal there – we knew what we had to do. It came down to one shot and if we played good defense they were going to give us offensive chances,” Parsons said.
There was only one way the game could end, and after several heart-stopping close plays on both ends, the game came down to a two on one for London. And they didn’t disappoint.
In true London Knights fashion, Aiden Jamieson slid the puck to Tkachuck, who ripped it past Marchand into the top corner for the game winning goal.
“It was a great pass by Jay-Mo (Jamieson). He put it right on my stick and I came up with speed and was able to toe-drag a shot over the defender’s stick — it’s awesome. It’s awesome,” said Tkachuck about the goal that capped off the Knights’ 17 game win streak.
“It’s right up there with all of the accolades, all of the awards. But it’s not about my goal. It’s about the team, it’s about the win, it’s about the 17 game winning streak, it’s about the way we carried ourselves into this tournament and the way we carried ourselves throughout this tournament.”
It was also a very special moment for Knights overage backup goalie Brendan Burke.
The 20-year-old spent a lot of time around Sylvan Lake while he was growing up, and he was the first person co-captains Dvorak and Mitch Marner handed the Memorial Cup to after receiving it from CHL President David Branch.
“It’s great. I’ve got lots of family here, my grandparents are here, my mom, dad, sister. So it’s an unbelievable feeling and you just can’t describe it,” Burke said with a grin on his face.
“It’s one of those things, it’s hard to get. It takes a lot of time and I’m just happy for the boys, they earned it all year. To win 17 in a row in playoff time, in this tournament, you’re playing the best, it’s unheard of,” Hunter said.