Three years after falling short by two goals in the national final, the Winnipeg Thrashers got the job done Sunday evening in St. John’s, defeating the London, Ont. Junior Knights 3-1 in the Canadian Telus Cup major midget hockey championship game.
It was the first title for a Winnipeg-based club, and only the second for Manitoba. In 2004, the Brandon Wheat Kings won the gold medal in Kenora, Ont.
Even more impressive is the fact the Thrashers did it with almost a completely different club from the one iced last season. Only three players returned from last year’s roster, and changes also included a new coaching staff, led by Dan Eliasson.
“I know it’s a cliché,” said Connor Lockhart, Winnipeg’s player of the game whose goal stood as the game-winner Sunday, “but we took on a, ‘Let’s work as hard we can’ attitude.
“We had nobody in the top 10 in our league scoring, and noone finished in the top 10 in scoring here. But we just had a group of guys, from the first line to the fourth line, who pitched in every night.”
Justin Derlago and Corey Petrash also scored for the winners. Cale Duberry was the only London player to beat Winnipeg goalie Teagan Sacher, who made 31 saves. Craig Wood, who was earlier named the tournament’s best goaltender, stopped 15 shots.
In the bronze-medal game Sunday morning, Quebec’s Lac St-Louis Lions, with St. John’s native Kurt Etchegary in the lineup, beat Vancouver Northwest Giants 5-3.
The final drew about 1,800 to 2,000 to Mile One Centre, a decent attendance given it was Easter Sunday and teams hailed from Manitoba and Ontario.
Tournament chairman Jack Casey of St. John’s said heading into Sunday’s bronze and gold-medal games, attendance for the week-long national event was hovering about 16,000, “in the top half” of the national midget hockey championships played, dating back to the Wrigley, later Air Canada Cup and now the Telus Cup.
“Every year attendance is different because you could have a 1,500-seat rink one year and a 10,000-seat arena the next,” Casey said.
“We were about on average for the larger buildings.”
A large turnout of some 4,000 fans flocked to Mile One for the host St. John’s game against Quebec Friday night, a tilt won 6-1 by the Lions, knocking the Privateers from playoff contention.
The result left Casey thinking about would could have been if St. John’s had reached Saturday’s semifinal.
“I think we would have filled her,” he said.
The tournament host committee budgeted $400,000 for the event and Casey is confident the final figure will be in that ball park when the bills are paid.
“It could be $5,000 one way or the other,” he said.
While Hockey Canada picked up the tab getting the teams to Newfoundland, it was the host committee which had to pay for the players’ accommodations and meals. Another big expense was the rental of Mile One, which was expected to run $80,000 or more.
Ironically, the host committee for Leduc, Alta., site of next year’s Telus Cup, has ice time booked and the final figure is $15,000.
“That’s the average anybody pays,” Casey said. “The way it usually works is if you make money, you’re expected to pay the bill. If you lose money, some of the (ice) expense is forgiven.”
Will that happen with Mile One, Casey was asked, should the committee lose a few dollars?
On Friday night, the tournament handed out its individual awards. Marcus Power of the Privateers, who finished eighth in tourney scoring with three goals and five assists in five games, was named the most sportsmanlike player.