For the first time in franchise history, the Chilliwack Chiefs are national junior A champions.
Corey Andonovski scored the game winning goal in the third period and the Chiefs got 28 saves from Daniel Chenard in a 4-2 win over the Wellington Dukes Sunday afternoon at Prospera Centre.
The Chiefs, underachievers throughout the regular season and losers in the first round of the BCHL playoffs, weren’t supposed to win the 2018 RBC Cup. Many fans and prognosticators thought they’d be lucky to win a game.
But after losing 2-1 in overtime to Wenatchee in their first preliminary round match, they never lost again.
They went 3-0 for the rest of the round-robin with wins over Ottawa, Wellington and Steinbach followed by a gritty 3-2 triumph over Ottawa in Saturday night’s semi-final. On Sunday they completed their quest, delivering one of the unlikeliest championships you’ll ever see.
“We knew we would have a lot of people saying that we weren’t ready to compete, and I think we proved everybody wrong,” Andonovski said. “That’s one of the greatest things you can do. When everybody’s doubting you and you turn that around, it’s nice for our team. We did struggle at times this year, but we go out as champions.”
It wasn’t a cake walk to the title, with the Dukes proving to be stubborn foes.
Wellington opened the scoring just 90 seconds in on a goal by Ted McGeen. Andrew Rinaldi went in behind the Chilliwack net with the puck and fed a quick pass into the goalmouth for McGeen, who had it on and off his stick before Chenard could react.
For the first 15 minutes of the opening frame Wellington was the better team.
But the tables started to turn as time ticked down, and Chilliwack was unlucky to not have at least one on the scoreboard. With Dukes forward Ben Evans in the sin bin for slashing the Chiefs appeared to score off a goalmouth scramble. The puck definitely crossed the line and Chilliwack’s players lifted their arms to celebrate, but after a brief discussion at the timekeeper’s box, the officials decided that the Wellington net had come off its moorings.
Video replayed suggested otherwise, but the home team skated into the second period in a one-goal hole.
That lasted 5:29.
Andonovski, who missed the Saturday semi-final with a high ankle sprain, glided down the left wing and put a centering pass into the crease where Kaden Pickering directed it across the line and brought the crowd to its feet.
“The season’s over now, so I guess there’s no reason to keep the injury a secret,” Andonovski laughed. “I had faith in our team to pull through against Ottawa, and once they did there was no way I was staying out of the lineup for the final.”
Chilliwack outshot the Dukes 14-7 and held a heavy edge in zone time, but Wellington scored shorthanded in the final minute of the middle frame to regain the lead. Mitchell Martan did the work unassisted, flying down the right wing and cutting hard across the slot. Chenard moved with him and when Martin fired a back-against-the-grain shot, there was plenty of space between the goalie’s legs for the puck to sneak through.
Will ‘The Deflecter’ Calverly got Chilliwack even once more 4:35 into period three.
As he’s done five times previously in this tournament, the captain went to the front of the net and got his stick on a point shot from one of his defenceman. This time it was Bryan Allbee with a wrister and Calverley with a tip through Wellington goalie Jonah Capriotti.
Just under four minutes later it was Andonovski producing the go-ahead goal. The native of Uxbridge, Ontario rifled a shot from the right-faceoff dot. Capriotti made the save but didn’t squeeze the rebound. It fell right in front of him, where Andonovski was able to poke it through the goalie’s legs.
Tommy Lee, who hadn’t scored since the first round series opener versus Prince George, added insurance at 12:20.
A Wellington defender turned the puck over to Chilliwack’s PJ Marrocco, who fired a quick pass into the goalmouth for Lee. The Calgary native’s shot was even quicker, a laser past Capriotti that all but sealed the deal.
As time ticked down, the near-sellout crowd at Prospera Centre blew the roof off the building and the players jumped over the boards for a celebration that will no doubt continue long into the night and be remembered for years to come.