The Quesnel Kangaroos are the 2020 Central Interior Hockey League (CIHL) playoff champions for the second year in a row.
The Roos faced off against the River Kings at the Terrace Ice Arena on Saturday, March 7 in Game 2 of the championship series after cruising to an easy 8-4 victory in Game 1 a week earlier in Quesnel.
The Roos knew the River Kings weren’t going to pull any punches on their home ice in front of their hometown fans, so they came up with a game plan to take the home advantage out of the River Kings’ hands as quickly as possible.
As soon as the puck dropped in the first period, the Roos jumped on the offensive attack, picking up right where they left off in Game 1.
Less then a minute into the game and before many of the fans in the stands and River Kings on the bench knew what happened, Justin Fulton lit the red light, assisted by Braiden Epp and Justin Fillion, giving the Roos the early 1-0 lead.
The River Kings picked up their offensive pace and would outshoot the Roos 12-7 in the period but couldn’t keep up on defence, as Paul Girodat put another point up on the board for the visiting Roos, with assists from Fillion and Eli Jarvis, halfway through the period.
As the period wound down and the River Kings were looking forward to taking a break from being on their heels for 20 minutes, Lane Vandewetering planted a dagger in the hearts of the hometown fans, scoring the third goal of the period for the Roos off of a helper from team captain Alessio Tomassetti.
The second period would see some great back-and-forth hockey action, with the Roos outshooting the River Kings 13-10, but neither team was able to solve the opposing netminder.
What the period lacked in points, it made up for in penalty minutes, with more than 50 minutes being doled out between the two teams. The infractions included three 10-minute misconducts for Roos Ryan Reynolds and Logan Archer, along with River King Connor Beauchemin.
The River Kings came out on a mission in the third and immediately started pressuring in the offensive zone, knowing they only had 20 minutes to keep their championship dreams alive.
The River Kings, spurred on my the cheers of their rally cap-wearing fans, were finally able to solve Roos goaltender Brandon Peacock, who faced 20 shots in the third alone.
Within a four-minute offensive flurry in the first half of the third, the River Kings were able to do exactly what they needed to do to stay alive. Mason Richey, Connor Onstein and Sam Reinbolt each scored one after another, as the hometown cheers reached an ear-shattering decibel in the arena.
The third period would end in a 3-3 tie, setting up the most exciting finish a hockey fan could hope for — overtime in a championship deciding game.
During the short intermission, Roos head coach Harley Gilks focused his team and helped them remember exactly what got them to the finals.
“I just kept telling the boys to stay focused, stay relaxed out there and play their game,” said Gilks. “We had a couple of our leaders really step up — Mike Wakita and Alessio, they stepped up and kept the boys calm as well. I just told them to take deep breaths, it’s no different than any other game and no matter where we are right now, this is where we played all year to get.”
The River Kings started the overtime period on a power play and immediately put their foot down on the offensive gas, but Roos captain Alessio Tomassetti broke up a pass in his defensive zone and streaked down the ice with the puck. After a scramble along the boards, Roos forward Ryan Keis freed up the puck and passed it to Tomassetti. A collective gasp could be heard from the stands as fans held their breath and Tomassetti wired a shot at River Kings goaltender Patrick Leal.
You could hear a pin drop in the arena during the brief moment before the referee signalled a goal and the Roos’ bench erupted, along with the cheers from fans who made the trip. Tomassetti sealed the championship victory for the Roos, scoring shorthanded just 34 seconds into overtime.
“Scoring that goal 30 seconds in was huge,” said Tomassetti. “It was the biggest goal I’ve scored in my hockey days, but it wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of Ryan Keis. He dug as hard as he could to get that puck to me in the slot shorthanded. It was an awesome moment. I am proud of all the guys on our team, from the coaches, managers, trainers and all the players. We all bought in and got the job done.”
The Quesnel Kangaroos are the CIHL champions for the second year in a row and the favourites heading into their next challenge, the Coy Cup Men’s Senior AA Provincial Championship, which will be hosted by Quesnel March 24-28 at the West Fraser Centre.