It wasn’t quite the perfect Storm.
But the Campbell River Storm junior hockey team put the perfect exclamation point on the 2014-15 season Sunday by claiming the Keystone Cup with a decisive, 6-3 victory over the North Edmonton Red Wings at Cold Lake Energy Centre in Cold Lake, AB.
The Western Canadian Junior B championship is the first in the Storm’s history and the first ever by a Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League team.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said coach and general manager Lee Stone, who was hired before the 2013-14 season and immediatly turned the Storm into a winning program. “When we came together we had this goal; it wasn’t about winning the VIJHL or provincials, it was to go all the way and win this (Keystone Cup).
“We battled through some adversity in this tournament with the loss to North Edmonton during round-robin, but to get revenge in the final means a lot to these guys. They are such an exceptional group of young men, they really, truly deserve it.”
The game-winning goal was scored, fittingly, by 20-year-old captain Jordan Rauser, a defenseman who started with the program in the last of five straight losing seasons and who helped shepherd the two-year turnaround in a championship squad under Stone.
“My first year with this team we had 12 wins all season. Now we’re Keystone Cup Champions, the best team in Western Canada,” said Rauser. “If I had told someone three years ago that was going to happen they would have told me I’m crazy. It just goes to show if you work hard enough, anything is possible.”
Rauser, a Campbell River native, announced last month his intention to play next season at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Also fitting the makeup of the team, the six goals were scored by six different players, as the Storm relied all season not on one or two superstars, but a balanced team effort.
Sunday’s championship win avenged the Storm’s only loss in the six-game Keystone tourney, a 5-4 defeat to the Red Wings in round-robin play Friday.
Goalie Riley Welyk, who came to the program in a trade deadline deal in January, was awarded first star in the win. Welyk split time in net with Jesse Michel throughout the final three rounds of playoffs as the Storm captured the VIJHL title, the Cyclone Taylor Cup as the B.C. provincial champions and, finally, the Keystone.
Welyk had been on the losing end of the Storm’s round-robin meeting with North Edmonton, and relished the chance for redemption.
“I had an off game and knew I had to rebound back from that – I just put it behind me,” said Welyk. “I was waiting for this moment all through the playoffs; I just wanted the opportunity to play in a championship game. I was very excited when I got the call.”
Trevor Bottomley, Kobe Oishi, Gavin Rauser, Gage Colpron and Reece Costain all joined Jordan Rauser in the scoring column as the Storm outshot North Edmonton 34-28.
Dane Feeney had two assists and Tyler Welsh, Connor Logan, Ryan Grills, Michael Olson, Jordan Rauser and Costain each had one.
Campbell River led 1-0 after one period despite being outshot 9-8. Then, continuing a trend on display throughout the four-day Keystone Cup tourney, the Storm took command in a dominating second period. Oishi, Gavin Rauser and Jordan Rauser scored consecutive goals to make it a 4-0 game as the Storm outshot the Red Wings 15-9 in the period.
After North Edmonton got on the board late in the second, Colpron scored 16 seconds into the third period to restore the lead at 5-1.
The Red Wings drew to 5-2 midway through the period on a Lisle Smith. Then, with goalie Joe Mandrusiak pulled for an extra attacker, Lisle Smith scored with 1:15 to play to make it 5-3.
With a crowd of local fans watching a pay-per-view broadcast in the mezzanine of Strathcona Gardens, Costain then closed out the scoring on an unassisted empty-netter with 47 seconds left.
“I’m not sure there are words to describe what I’m feeling right now,” Jordan Rauser said. “I’m just proud of every one of these guys that worked so hard this year; I think we’re deserving of everything we got. West Edmonton is a good team, they play hard every minute, but all year we never lost to a team twice in a row, so we were confident if we played our game we would win.”
Campbell River went 1-for-5 on the power play and was a perfect 0-for-4 on the penalty kill.
The Storm finished with a 5-1 record in the six-team Keystone Cup, which featured the champions from Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan, along with the host Cold Lake Ice. Saskatoon took the bronze with a 5-4 win over Thunder Bay, Ont., earlier Sunday.
Campbell River finished with a 21-2 record in the postseason after skating to a 39-4-1-4 mark in the regular season, leaving the Storm with a combined record of 60-6-1-4 in the marathon campaign.
In previous Keystone Cup appearances, the Storm finished second in 2006 as the host team, and placed third in 1999 as the B.C. champions, the only other time the team claimed the provincial title.
With reporting by Trevor Stevens.