The NCL 19U Conference Championships concluded this past weekend after the Western event finished in Surrey, British Columbia. With the Eastern Championships taking place the weekend before in Gatineau, the field for the 19U Championships in Montreal is now set. With every club’s season on the line, the championships were filled with intense games from start to finish.
19U Eastern Conference Championships
The first spot at the 19U Finals was clinched when CAMO’s 19U Women continued their undefeated run by upending Golden Horseshoe in the 1 vs 2 game on the Friday night in Gatineau. CAMO has been held to only one tie on the entire year, and few teams have even had the opportunity to beat them in the closing minutes. Golden Horseshoe was able to keep the game close early, only down three in the 3rd quarter, but the depth of CAMO would be too much. CAMO would pull away in the 2nd half and advance directly to the gold medal game with a 17-7 victory. The gold and silver medal winning teams at each conference championship qualify for the National Finals, so by winning the 1 vs 2 game and advancing to the gold medal game, CAMO also clinched their spot at the Finals in Montreal.
As the 2nd seed in the tournament, Golden Horseshoe would get another crack at qualifying despite the loss, but it would be no easy road. The loss dropped Golden Horseshoe into a quarter-final with Capital Wave. The girls from Southern Ontario would regroup and score a convincing 15-8 win over the local squad, advancing the to semi-final against St-Lambert, who had defeated Dollard 16-11. The semi-final might have been the game of the weekend. The goals came fast and furious with both teams setting a high pace. Tied at 7-7 early in the 2nd, three straight goals by Verica Bakoc gave Golden Horseshoe some early breathing room. For the next two quarters, Golden Horseshoe was just able to get their nose in front, with the lead fluctuating between one and three goals. Early in the 4th, Vivian Plourde’s 5th of the game would finally pull St-Lambert level at 16 all. The tie would be short lived, as three straight goals by Golden Horseshoe restored the lead to three. All the work the St-Lambert had used trying to catch up seemed to have been for naught; until, an amazing spurt brought them level again. The three goal deficit it had taken 2 quarters to eliminate the first time, had taken under 2 minutes to eliminate the 2nd time. Twice more after that, Golden Horseshoe would take a one goal lead, only to have St-Lambert find the equalizer one more time. As the last minute wore down, it looked like a shoot-out would decide the matter; but, Verica Bakoc was able to leak out with under 30 seconds remaining, and her breakaway goal (her 11th of the game!) finally gave Golden Horseshoe a lead that St-Lambert couldn’t match. The heart and passion of both teams was incredible to watch and it was a shame that either team had to come out on the losing side. With the win, Golden Horseshoe qualified for the National Finals along with the CAMO, and also earned a shot at the Eastern Conference Championship. The toll of the semi-final might have been to much for Golden Horseshoe, as CAMO would capture the championship in a 21-9 victory.
The Men’s competition in Ottawa also featured some incredible games, specifically between the Toronto Golden Jets and CAMO. The two clubs met first in the 1 vs 2 game on Friday. To say the game was a tight affair would be an understatement. From the 2nd quarter to the end of the game, the lead for either team was only more than one goal for a total of 40 seconds. CAMO thought they found the winner with 1:30 left on a Benjamin Lavoie-Lemay shot, but a late exclusion gave the Golden Jets one more chance to tie. Blake Carnevale fired one home with 5 seconds left to send the game to a shootout. An early save in the shoot-out from Igor Jovanovic would be all the Jets needed, as each of their five shooters made no mistake. Euan Scoffied’s shot would be the one that won the game, and sent the Jets to Montreal.
CAMO was able to regroup from the upset loss and earn their own berth in the National Finals with a 19-12 win over the hometown Ottawa Titans. The win set up a rematch of the 1 vs 2 game against the Jets, this time with the stakes being the Eastern Championship. The gold medal game was once again an intense affair, as both teams battled hard for the victory. Unlike the first game, the 2nd game would not be as close from start to finish. The Jets jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and maintained the lead right into the 4th quarter. Trailing 14-11 in the 4th quarter, the CAMO defense would tighten, and the Montrealers would slowly reel the Jets back in. CAMO would keep the Jets off the scoreboard for the entire period, and Jonathon Plourde’s 6th of the game with under 3 minutes to play would pull CAMO level for the first time since the opening minute. Neither team could find a winner in the final minutes, though both teams came very close, and mirroring the first game; the game would enter a shootout tied at 14. The shootout would also seem to be a replay of the first game. The Jets shooters, time after time, placed their shots in the corners, and when Jovanovic made a great save on CAMO’s third shooter, the Jets were in control. Once again Euan Scoffied had the chance to provide the winner, and once again he made no mistake, sending the Jets back to Toronto as the Eastern Conference Champions.
1st – CAMO
2nd – Golden Horseshoe
3rd – St-Lambert
4th – Capital Wave
5th – Dollard
1st – Toronto Golden Jets
2nd – CAMO
3rd – Dollard Black
4th – Ottawa Titans
5th – Dollard White
6th – Capital Wave
19U Western Conference Championships
The first western spot for the 19U Finals was clinched by Pacific Storm thanks to their 24-17 victory over the Calgary Wild in the 1 vs 2 game. Storm were the favourites entering the game but early on they could not shake the Wild loose. As the game wore on, the concern from the local fans continued to grow as still Wild held on. Leading the charge for the Wild was Aria Soleimane, who had 10 goals in the contest. Every time Wild needed a goal it seemed Soleimane was able to find a little space and beat the keeper. The turning point came halfway through the 4th quarter when a 3rd Wild player was excluded from the game. This left the Wild down a man and Storm was able to capitalize the rest of the way to record the victory and their spot in Montreal. Storm was led by the inside/outside combination of Reuel D’Souza, and Robert Martyn-Fraser, who each scored nine goals.
The loss dropped the Wild into the semi-final against their local rivals the Calgary Torpedoes. The Torpedoes had already beaten the Edmonton Tsunami and Saskatchewan to earn their place in the semi-finals, and were looking for one more victory to clinch their spot in Montreal. Torpedoes controlled the game from the start and opened up an early 7-2 lead. Unlike Friday’s game against Storm, Wild could not keep Torpedoes close and so when the 4th quarter arrived, Wild was not in a position to take the victory, and Torpedoes advanced with a 14-10 victory. Sunday’s final between Storm and Torpedoes was played in from of the special guests from the 1976 Senior team from B.C. The 76 team was the first B.C. team to ever win Senior Nationals. 1st seed Pacific Storm showed why they have been so tough to beat on the year, as they fired on all cylinders throughout the game. Storm recorded a comfortable 21-13 win to claim the gold medal. During the awards ceremony, the Storm players took a page of the NHL’s books, choosing not to touch the conference championship trophy, so as not to jinx their chances for the National Championships.
On the women’s side, the 1 vs 2 game took place on Saturday and featured the local rivalry between Pacific Storm and Fraser Valley. Storm had won all five games against Valley on the year, and a 6th victory would assure their spot in Montreal. Led by western conference leading scoring Viktoria Orlova’s four goals, as well as four from Tamara Curcija, and three from Nina Ceklic, Storm was able to overcome three goals from Fraser Valley captain Emily Aikema, and claim a 13-8 victory.
Valley dropped into the all-important semi-final against Saskatchewan as a result of their loss, and the Sunday morning game would decide the final 19U berth at the National Finals. Saskatchewan may have played their game of the year in the semi-final, as their defensive pressure was suffocating, and their goaltending top notch. After a scoreless first period, Saskatchewan would tally five goals in the 2nd without surrendering a goal against. Valley would get on the board in the 3rd quarter, but five more Sask goals gave them in insurmountable lead entering the fourth quarter. The win moved Sask into the gold medal game against Pacific Storm. Storm had only lost one game on the year, and that was to the Eastern Champion from CAMO. With Saskatchewan having played that morning against Fraser Valley, it seemed to be a tall task to also knock off Pacific Storm in the same day. Somehow, Sask may have played even better in the 2nd game. One again the goaltending and defence from Saskatchewan was outstanding, and while Viktoria Orlova was able to score five for Storm, Devyn Smith answered with 6 for Sask. Smith in fact scored 5 of 6 goals straight for Saskatchewan and turned a 3-2 deficit into an 8-5 lead Sask wouldn’t relinquish. Many coaches will talk about the importance of having a team peak at the right time, and on Sunday, the Saskatchewan women certainly had one of those days. As a result, the Western Championship is headed out the prairies.
1st – Saskatchewan
2nd – Pacific Storm
3rd – Fraser Valley
4th – Edmonton Tsunami
1st – Pacific Storm
2nd – Calgary Torpedoes
3rd – Fraser Valley
4th – Calgary Wild
5th – Saskatchewan
6th – Edmonton Tsunami