By Frank Peebles
The highest age level in Quesnel minor hockey got the stage to itself Nov. 12-13. The U18 division hosted a home tournament that had three local teams match up against visiting teams from Prince George, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.
Quesnel couldn’t muster the round robin record to be on home ice for the gold medal game, but Team Blue represented the city in the bronze medal game and even when down by a seemingly insurmountable deficit, the players were determined to send their hometown supporters home with podium applause.
It worked. After falling behind 5-1 to the Williams Lake crew, Quesnel pushed back up the scoresheet in the most unlikely of ways. They potted a pair of shorthanded goals with not one but two players in the penalty box. Those two 3-on-5 tallies tilted the ice and Quesnel never relinquished the momentum, chipping in goals while keeping Williams Lake’s chances fruitless. The game ended deadlocked, so sudden death overtime was required. When the go-ahead goal was scored, the crowd of about 75 people was roaring – partly in triumph, partly in exhilarated disbelief.
It was as tough a finish as it was a round robin. Quesnel Blue started with a 7-3 loss to Prince George, then put up an inspiring 12-4 victory over 100 Mile House before dropping a disheartening 7-1 loss to Williams Lake – disheartening, said coach Troy McClellan, because everyone on the team felt they were better than the scoreboard read in that matchup.
They wanted a do-over and they got it.
“To come back from that 6-goal loss and then move into a bronze medal game against the team you just lost to, you’re down 5-1 going into the third period, and come back and win 6-5 in overtime – that’s great to see,” he said.
McClellan pondered if he had ever seen two goals scored while down two players, the unquestionable turning point.
“I don’t know if I have, no. Especially when that five-on-three came from nearly a full line-brawl, so for them to be able to calm themselves down, deal with the shorthanded situation, get a couple in the net, bring it back to a 5-3 score and work from there…really cool to see that.”
During the second intermission, the two minutes of coach conversation was McLellan dealing with teenaged emotions. He felt a mental re-set was needed more than game-play instruction, in that moment.
“They were playing well, so just getting them to calm down, play their game, play hard, and we told them it was just going to have to be an ugly win. Once they figured out they just had to put shots on net, getting that momentum going into overtime – that was huge.”
Assistant coach Russ Manning pointed out that tournament rules were a determining factor. If there is a two-goal difference or less in the final five minutes of a game, the countdown clock goes from continuous running time (counting down even in the dead times after a whistle) to stop-time (halting the game’s stopwatch after each whistle). Quesnel closed the gap successfully to use that extra time to force overtime.
James Byrd scored the overtime goal and was named Quesnel Blue’s player of the game. Normally a winger, he was moved to centre for this game and it paid off.
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