It might be a bit premature to fix a ‘dynasty’ tag to Clarenville’s provincial senior hockey team, but the Caribous are inching towards deserving that label now that they have won their third provincial championship in four years.
The Caribous got two goals from Steven Yetman as they powered their way past the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts 6-3 Sunday afternoon at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook for the Herder Memorial Trophy championship.
Last season, the Herd was bumped from contention — and a shot at three straight provincial titles — with a semifinal loss to the Deer Lake Red Wings in the West Coast senior league playoffs, but made up for that disappointment with an Allan Cup Canadian senior hockey crown a month later.
Clarenville took the 2012 Telegram Herder Memorial Trophy Championship series in five games. The Caribous dropped the opening game of the series 5-1 last Saturday at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, but roared back with four straight victories.
Dale Sullivan, Jeff Caron, Chris Hulit and Jeremy Kavanagh also scored for Clarenville on Sunday. Chad Earle tallied twice for the Cats, while veteran Chris Peach scored the other goal for the defending Herder champions.
Sullivan, a veteran senior hockey star who had never won the big prize, got to hoist his first Herder seconds after Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador representative Gary Gale presented Caribous captain Dustin Russell with the coveted trophy.
It was Sullivan, the Calvert native and 2001 draft pick of the Dallas Stars, whom Russell sought out when he handed off the trophy.
“It’s unbelievable feeling,” said Sullivan, the hero Friday night with an overtime goal in Clarenville’s 3-2 Game 3 win.
“It’s been a long time coming and for the captain to call me over to raise it first was amazing. It just goes to show the kind of teammates we have here.”
Some fans were probably thinking Sullivan might be a scratch for Game 5 after being on the receiving end of a big hit along the boards Saturday night, leaving the lanky winger dealing with a bruised jaw. He left the game and didn’t return.
However, with his team one win away from the big prize, sitting out was never an option for Sullivan.
“Not a chance. I was dressing, for sure,” said Sullivan.
Russell was rewarded for his steady play with the Cliff Gorman Memorial Award as the most valuable player in the Herder playoffs.
“We definitely had our hearts set on winning the Herder this year,” Russell said. “The Cats took it from us last year, so this is where we wanted to be. We didn’t really expect to win three games this weekend because I really thought the Cats were too strong for that to happen.
“I fully expected to go back to St. John’s next weekend (Games 6 and 7 would have ben played at Mile One Centre), but when we got them in a hole, we knew they were too good to let them up.”
Yetman opened the scoring for the Caribous at 9:58 of the opening stanza with a nice short-handed effort when he pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and fired a wrist shot under the blocker of Mark Yetman.
Sullivan gave the Caribous a 2-0 lead at 6:38 of the middle frame with a shot through the five-hole of Yetman. That came after Matt Bragg stripped Cats’ defender Nick Theriault of the puck and fed it to Sullivan, who was wide open in the slot.
But Peach got the Cats on the scoresheet just 20 seconds later to give the defending champs something to cheer about, and Earle beat Clarenville netminder Jason Churchill for the first of two markers just under two minutes later to even the contest at 2-2.
Caron scored from the blueline when his slapshot found its way through the pads of Yetman at 11:06 of the second period and Steve Yetman scored what would stand as the game-winner on a play with Russell and Brad Crann with 45 seconds left in the period.
The Cataracts’ Earle scored from Lapointe and Theriault at 5:48 of the third period, but Hulit tallied with 1:35 left in regulation and Kavanagh added an empty-netter in the final minute of play to seal the deal.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Clarenville coach Ivan Hapgood. “There’s an old saying that, ‘Winning is everything’ and that’s exactly what it is.
“There’s nothing like winning.”
Down the Pepsi Centre hallway, it was a sombre mood as the Cataracts gathered in their dressing room while Grand Falls-Windsor management team milled about outside.
“I think there’s a lot of learning curve here,” Cataracts coach Brian Casey said.
“We just got away from some areas that really were going good in the semifinal and the first game of the Herder, but credit to (the Caribous), they were mistake-free. They really never made a lot of mistakes and I think overall they were a little sharper than us, and when they had the opportunities to score, they buried them.”
Despite losing the final four games of the series, Casey was proud of the way his players conducted themselves.
“I have to give credit to our players and our goalie (Yetman) played exceptionally well,” he said.
“I’m proud of every one of them. It’s always a bitter feeling when you lose, but it’s just evident of how strong our hockey league is.
“It’s a tough trophy to win right now.”
The Cataracts still have hockey to play this spring. Grand Falls-Windsor will compete in the 2012 Allan Cup tournament in Lloydminster, Sask., April 16-21.
Crowds at the Pepsi Centre hovered around the 1,200 mark for each of the three games in a rink that holds just over 3,000 fans.
The Western Star