BROOKS, AB - A storybook ending is often hard to come by in sports, but the Brooks Bandits wrote a virtually perfect final chapter on Sunday afternoon.
In front of thousands of screaming fans at Centennial Regional Arena and even more watching across the country live, the Bandits hoisted the National Junior ‘A’ Championship trophy for the second time in franchise history.
Brooks saved their best performance of the tournament for their final game, knocking off the Prince George Spruce Kings by a 4-3 final to win national gold on home ice.
Earning a modicum of revenge against Prince George after falling in the Doyle Cup series, Brooks finishes its season with both a national championship and an Alberta Junior Hockey League title.
Even with the pressure of playing for national gold at home, the Bandits played almost perfect hockey through the opening 20 minutes.
Just a minute and a half into the final, Simon Boyko received a feed at the side of the net and scored on the backhand to give Brooks the early 1-0 lead.
William Lemay potted his fourth goal of the tournament seven minutes later, picking the puck up at the point and unloading a cannon of a shot that beat Logan Neaton for the second goal of the afternoon.
Brooks continued to pour on the offence, cycling the puck in the Spruce Kings zone for minutes at a time.
Playing in his final game in a Bandits uniform, captain Nathan Plessis found the score sheet by knocking in a loose puck sitting in the crease before the end of the period.
The CRA faithful rose to their feet at the sound of the first intermission buzzer, sending their boys in blue and red to the locker room with a 3-0 lead over the Spruce Kings.
Early in the second period however, a tripping penalty against Ryan Mahshie would prove to be costly for the Bandits.
Off a shot from Max Coyle, a loose puck would kick towards Patrick Cozzi for the winger’s second goal of the tournament and more importantly Prince George’s first goal of the game.
The Spruce Kings bounced back and held most of the momentum through the second, but a rush off the wing late in the period tilted the ice once more.
Flying down the left side, Boyko stopped on a dime and hit the hockey equivalent of a pull-up three with a snipe top shelf to stretch Brooks’ lead to three again.
Seconds after Boyko’s second of the game, Bandits winger Ray Christy was smoked from behind into the boards in the Brooks end of the ice by Prince George’s Ben Brar.
A graduating member of the Spruce Kings organization, Brar was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct to see his junior career come to an abrupt end.
Brooks was unable to convert on the lengthy power play however, skating to the intermission with a 4-1 lead over Prince George.
The Spruce Kings pressed hard in the third with goals from Nick Poisson and Nolan Welsh, but the Bandits were able to wait out the final buzzer to send the CRA into hysterics.
Leaping off the bench, Plessis said it was one of the best feelings of his life getting to celebrate with his teammates that have become brothers.
“Just elation I think,” said Plessis. “I just jumped off the bench, threw my stuff everywhere, and just mobbed my teammates. That’s all I could think of.”
It was the final game in a Bandits uniform for Arnaud Vachon as well, who added all the trials and tribulations of junior hockey finally paid off on Sunday.
“Unbelievable, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for three years coming here,” said Vachon. “I knew this was a winning team, a winning culture. Coming so close my first year losing in the finals, then last year didn’t go our way. But, then this year making it all the way here and winning is unbelievable.”
It’s redemption for the Bandits who lost to the Cobourg Cougars in overtime of the 2017 RBC Cup final, with Plessis, Vachon, and Jake Theis being a part of that team.
Brooks’ win on Sunday is the first national championship for the club since they brought home the Canadian title in 2013 in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
“2013 was so long ago and what’s fresh in our minds was losing in Cobourg in overtime,” said head coach Ryan Papioannou. “I don’t even remember that one anymore after tonight.”
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