IcePak claim provincial major midget hockey league title
If you’re running with the Central IcePak, you’re running with the best major midget hockey team on the island.
© Geraldine Brophy Photo/TC•Media
KINGS OF KINGS — Central IcePak captain Josh Fitzgerald raises the NLMMHL championship trophy in celebration after his team defeated the Western Kings in game five to win the series 4-1.
The IcePak proved that by winning games three, four and five of the provincial major midget hockey league’s championship series in Corner Brook over the weekend, which gave them a 4-1 series win over the Western Kings, who eliminated the IcePak in seven games in last year’s semifinal series.
The IcePak put the series on ice with a 7-5 win at the Pepsi Centre on Sunday, and was led by Nick Fitzgerald, who scored twice in the clincher. Jared Lush, Josh Fitzgerald, Mike Mason, Kyle Champion and Jordan Maher also scored for the champs.
“When I came on board this year, I knew the type of team we were going to have. I knew it was a special group, so I was super excited when I got the opportunity to coach them, but I knew it was going to be tough,” said IcePak head coach Rob Canning. “There were a lot of hurdles along the way and there’s a lot of good teams in the league, so we put a game plan in place at the beginning of the year. We were constantly tweaking it throughout the season, but the boys stuck with it and bought into it.”
The IcePak were cruising along in game five, and held a 6-1 lead with 13 minutes left in the second period.
Canning was holding his breath at that point, but didn’t want his team to notice. Instead of sitting on a lead, Canning and the coaching staff continued to remind the IcePak players there was plenty of time left on the clock, and plenty of time for the Kings to mount a comeback.
“The first word that pops into my mind is relief because we had ourselves a 6-1 lead, and the first thing I said to the boys was, ‘The worst thing about this 6-1 lead is that there’s 33 minutes left,’” said Canning. “I knew how good Western was, and I knew they had an explosive team that can score in bunches. When they scored their second goal, we kept reminding the guys they had to pick up their play. I got excited when we scored the empty-net goal, but there was still 50 seconds left. The first thing we did was remind the boys there was still 50 seconds left, and anything can happen in 50 seconds.”
The longest 50 seconds of the coaches’ and players’ lives finally ticked down, and the buzzer sounded to end another year of Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey.
Canning said he even got emotional when the game officially ended, and along with being proud of the group of teenagers he gets to coach, he was happy to see another member of the team relish in the moment.
“I was pretty emotional when the final buzzer went, but seeing the emotion on the faces of the boys, especially some of our third-year players that went through a tough game-seven semifinal loss against this very team last year, I was just thrilled,” said the coach. “Also, our bus driver, Joe Roberts, was so excited. He’s been with the team longer than anybody, and has been driving this team for seven years. He was just so excited, and I was happy to see him be a part of it.”
Heading to Corner Brook with the series tied 1-1, Canning was sad to leave the team’s fan base in Lewisporte, but was happy to play on the bigger ice in the Pepsi Centre.
He said his speedy players had more time to work on the big ice, and the team’s aggressive forecheck and cycling also benefited from a larger surface.
Despite the fact the IcePak players could utilize their skills better on the bigger ice, it wasn’t just skill that got them through game three with a gritty 1-0 win.
According to Canning, it came down to two things — heart, and strong goaltending by Curtis Barrett.
“We always talked about our goaltending at the beginning of the year, and I have to tell you, deciding who to go with was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. It was almost a coin flip, to be honest, because I was comfortable with either one of the guys (Barrett or Noah Weir),” said Canning. “We went with Curtis, and he was excellent throughout the entire game. He was focused and ready to go.
“I also have to give a lot of credit to the way the entire team played defensively. In that 1-0 game, if we didn’t block 15 shots, we didn’t block one. We actually started the game with an awful shift, and they almost scored a few goals on the very first shift. We finished the shift with Nick Fitzgerald taking a really tough blocked shot to the body, and the puck went to the corner and back to their D, and Mike Mason comes across and blocks another shot that got the puck out. We ended up getting a change, and the boys really fed off of those blocked shots and their teammates putting their bodies on the line.
“We talk about skill and the different aspects of the game in the dressing room, but a lot of time it comes down to heart and paying the price by blocking shots and getting hit to make plays. In the end, that’s the reason we came out on top.”
With the win, the IcePak qualified to compete at the April 3-6 Atlantic Canada Major Midget Hockey Championships, which takes place in Pictou, N.S.
The IcePak, host Pictou County Weeks, and Kensington Monaghan Farms Wild of P.E.I. have already qualified, and the representatives of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were still being determined as of Monday.