It was an upset nobody in hockey saw coming as the St. John’s Maple Leafs defeated the Western Kings in five games to take the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League championship over the weekend.
Nobody except for the Leafs themselves.
“What others didn’t believe could happen, we believed it could,” said St. John’s coach Ed Oates following his team’s 4-3 overtime win over Western in the series-clincher Sunday at The Glacier in Mount Pearl, making it four straight provincial championships for the blue and white.
“Nobody gave us a chance going into this series, except the group we had in that room.”
Western dominated the major midget circuit this season, going 30-2 and clinching a playoff spot before Christmas. The Kings rolled through the semifinals, sweeping the Tri-Pen Osprey in four games, outscoring the Osprey 30-6.
The Leafs, on the other hand, finished second in the regular season at 21-11. Against Western, St. John’s managed only one win in eight regular-season meetings.
What others didn’t believe could happen, we believed it could. Nobody gave us a chance going into this series, except the group we had in that room.”
St. John’s Maple Leafs head coach Eddie Oates
“But we played them tough all season,” Oates said. “All of the games were one- and two-goal games and in the only blowout (a 6-0 St. John’s loss), we lost two of our key forwards in the middle of the game to injury and we had to move some defencemen up front.
“We knew in early December we were right there with Western, that we just had to find a way to win. Nobody had to tell our guys that every game was close.”
While the Kings barely broke a sweat against the Osprey, the Leafs had a much tougher time in their semifinal with the pesky East Coast Blizzard, a series that went five games. At one point, St. John’s trailed 2-1.
“The boys certainly raised their urgency in the final,” Oates said. “The core of our defence came up big. They’re third-year players who’ve won championships before and facing a quick Western team, they did a great job getting back, picking up loose pucks and moving them out of our end. We didn’t spend a lot of time in our zone.”
St. John’s also won the championship with a pair of rookie goalies, Michael Fisher and Andrew Curtis. Last year’s starting netminder, Josh Langmead, graduated, Andrew Rose toiled in the Maritime junior league and Michael Lundrigan, an affiliated player last season, opted to play basketball this year.
But perhaps the player who came up the biggest for the Leafs was Nick Gosse, who scored three goals Sunday, including the winner in overtime. Gosse had two goals and an assist in Friday’s 4-2 Game 3 win, and was named the playoffs’ MVP.
“He’s a horse,” Oates said of the former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League forward, who played last season for the Rimouski Oceanic.
Brandon Knight also scored for St. John’s Sunday, and Lucas Osmond collected four assists.
Brayden Ryan, Adrian Ward and Malcolm Genge replied for the Kings.
Fisher recorded the win in goal over Lucas Park.
In Game 4 Saturday night, Regan Seymour, Aaron Greenham and Austin Martin scored for St. John’s in a 3-1 win. Kristopher Thomas replied.
Fisher stopped 24 of 25 shots. Park made 17 saves.
Nick French and Chris Martell also scored for the Leafs Friday. Thomas and Noah Legge had the Western goals. Fisher made 21 saves, and Kirklin Young stopped 40 of 43 shots.
St. John’s now prepares for the Atlantic major midget championship March 29-April 1 in Lantz, N.S., about 40 minutes outside Halifax.
The winner of that tournament represents the region in the national Telus Cup Canadian major midget championship April 23-29 in Sudbury, Ont.