(KINGSVILLE, ON) – In a battle that spanned nine games in less than a month, the Kingsville Kings finally ran out of gas against the Tottenham Steam in the Greater Metro Junior A Russell Cup final. On Monday night, Game 7 of the championship series came down to endurance, and the Steam were up to the challenge.
After a lost opportunity in Game 6 at home, the Steam travelled south to Kingsville and played like their sparse few fans, buried in a large, boisterous Kings-partisan crowd, were the only souls in the house. A dominant middle frame clinched Tottenham a repeat of the league championship, with a 6-1 victory, and ended a long and exciting season for the hometown Kings.
The first period was a seesaw battle as the Kings and Steam swept back and forth across the ice. For awhile, it seemed that Kingsville’s Jan Pechek and Tottenham’s Denny Dubblestyne were super-men, bounding cross-crease, constantly making confounding saves.
With only 24 seconds remaining in the period, the Steam’s Jake Skerritt snapped one from the point and found open net behind Pechek. Kingsville, though, had the edge in shots, 13-12.
The Kings appeared to be ready to answer the bell when they took to the ice for the second, but costly penalties to Ludwig Niederbach, Branko Oktavec, and Zach McDonough stymied their pace. Late in the Oktavec minor, Brandon Yorke cashed in for a power play marker to extend the lead.
Tottenham continued to go to town on the Kingsville net. McDonough’s stay in the box only lasted three seconds, as Matt Fischer levelled a laser past Pechek right off the draw, for the Steam’s second extra man goal in the stanza.
Minutes later, Stepan Timofeyev put a puck through a flustered Pechek while down a man, as Tottenham began to pull away with the score.
LaSalle’s Wes Werner was briefly put in net, his second outing of the finals, to give the Kings’ starter a breather. By the next whistle, Pechek was put back into the line of fire.
Kingsville’s net minder was able to muster up the resolve to keep the rest of the on-going barrage from hitting twine as the period wound down. The Kings were pummelled in the shot department 21-9, many while shorthanded.
The home team took to the ice in the third to a deafening ovation from a standing room-only crowd. The Kings answered the call by driving to the net. At only 1:12 into the final act, Belle River’s Steven Szekesy knocked in a rebound on the doorstep to pop Dubblestyne’s goose egg. Kingsville continued to push, but found no easy task penetrating the Steam defensive.
Just a few minutes later, Kingsville’s Dan Leach missed an opportunity to make it 4-2, as Dubblestyne turned away his breakaway opportunity.
As Kingsville pushed hard, Yorke was able to procure a bobbled puck in the neutral zone. He drove to the Kings’ net on a break, and was able to deke Pechek glove-side, shelving it.
With just under 9 minutes to play, Tottenham’s Dzmitry Daniliuk took an interference infraction, and Kingsville pulled their tender for the extra attacker. For three minutes, the Kings would attack and the Steam would repel. Eventually, after a few tries at it, Tottenham hit the empty net to make it 6-1.
The Steam played dump-and-chase and trapped away the final minutes as the Kings efforts were rendered fruitless.
League Commissioner Ken Girard commented during the cup presentation that the 2016 final was by far the most exciting and competitive championship in the GMHL’s ten-year history. The Tottenham-Kingsville series is the third Russell Cup final to go the distance, but with a combined three regular seasons losses, and one weather-related forfeit, never before had two teams who dominated the GMHL to such a high magnitude met in the championship round.
He also conveyed the league’s pleasure in how the town of Kingsville had rallied around its first-year Junior A club.
“We had a great season, won a lot of hockey games,” Fischer, GMHL leading scorer, said after the trophy presentation. “It was a lot of fun.”
Fischer set two scoring records during the 2015-16 season by netting 72 goals and 146 points.
“It’s incredible,” he continued. “I know a lot of guys on this team have never won a championship like this before. It feels amazing.”
Fischer went on to describe Tottenham’s work ethic.
“It was an excellent challenge,” said the shootout hero of Game 1, “We had to dig deep and work our butts off to get here; we did it, though.”
Kingsville’s season was an incredible run. Starting the season with a 22-game winning streak, and losing only two games all year, they clinched the South Division pennant with a 39-3 record. The Kings ploughed through the divisional playoffs, sweeping the North York Renegades, Niagara Whalers, and Halton Ravens, on their way to the Southern loop’s championship.
In the semi-final round robin, the Kings shocked the North Division’s Almaguin Spartans and the Steam with 5-1 and 4-1 wins, respectively. They finished first with 3 wins and an overtime loss, earning home ice advantage in the finals.
Things started off well in the Russell Cup final. The Kings built up a 5-2 lead late in Game 1, but Ryan Gruszka’s major penalty, with less than 9 minutes to play, snowballed into disaster. The Steam would pop in 3 power play goals to force overtime.
Fischer scored the only goal in the shootout to spoil the game for Kingsville. The Kings would win 3 of the next 5 games, but their play grew inconsistent as Tottenham’s confidence grew.
“I think, for an inaugural season, it went really well,” said Nathan Moseley, Kingsville’s Director of Business Operations. “Obviously it is a tough way to end up, but the town really rallied behind us, we accomplished a lot of our goals, and we certainly have a good building block for years to come.