The Calgary Royals nearly learned the hard way Sunday that there’s no such thing as a comfortable cushion.
The Royals opened a 3-0 lead over the Red Deer Indy Graphics Chiefs in the final of the Alberta midget AA hockey championship tournament at the Arena when Josh Fletcher scored from the high slot at 7:36 of the third period and were apparently well on their way to capturing the provincial title.
The Chiefs, though, weren’t done. Far from it.
First, Declan Johnston tallied from a scramble at 8:14, then Lane Sim made it a one-goal game when he buried a rebound at 15:12 and Mack Differenz pulled the hosts even when he converted a cross-crease feed from Tanner Zentner 54 seconds later.
The Royals hung on down the stretch and then got the winning goal from Colton Young at 5:28 of overtime, his rising shot from a sharp angle beating Indy netminder Justin Anderson for a 4-3 victory.
“We’ve been teaching our players to get shots on net from all angles and he (Young) happened to squeak one in there on the top side,” said Royals head coach and Red Deer native Todd Sceviour. “He’s been tremendous for us all tournament and he got that one for us as well.
“We sort of sat back and tried to nurse it to the end. Red Deer being the team that they are, very opportunistic, came back and tied it and we had to go into overtime to try and win this thing.”
Following a scoreless and tight-checking opening period, the Royals struck for two goals in the second stanza as Young dashed end to end, cut across the high slot and wired a shot past Anderson at 11:58, and Braeden Tuck created a turnover at the Calgary blueline and connected on a short-handed breakaway at 17:47.
Fletcher’s goal looked like a back-breaker, but all it did was cue the comeback.
“These have been the cardiac kids all year,” said Chiefs head coach Al Sim.
“It’s been an unbelievable run and we still have something to play for,” he added, in reference to the South Central Alberta League championship.
“When we evaluated and picked these kids in September our goals were to reach the provincial final and have a chance to win a league championship.
“To lose to a great team like the Royals doesn’t make it any better, but it was a good game,” added Sim.
The game was the sixth for each team in a four-day stretch.
“We had back to back games Friday with two and a half hours between them, so that was tiring,” said Sceviour. “These guys were going into overtime today with not a lot of gas in the tank. We had also lost two guys to injury so we had even a shorter bench. But we persevered and got through it.
“These are very even teams. They battled us hard and we battled them hard and were lucky enough to get a few by them. Then they came back and got a few by us. In the end, the next goal wins, and who knows?
“These kids are beat up,” said Sim. “Everyone is playing with injuries. It’s a grind and it take fortitude and the toughest do survive.”
The Chiefs will host the Strathmore Wheatland Chiefs in Games 3 and 4 of the South Central League final Friday and Saturday at the Arena. The best-of-five set is tied 1-1.
“Our message to these guys is that we’re one of two AA teams out of 150 in the province who are still going to play next weekend,” said Sim. “We still have something to play for, and the league is important to us.
“It would be nice to have two, but let’s go get this other championship.”
• The Chiefs reached the championship game with a 4-2 semifinal over the Red Deer Elks Sunday morning, getting goals from Zentner, Differenz, Devon Langelaar and Josh Bussard.
Damon Loiselle and Reid Sterling connected for the Elks, who directed shots at 26 shots at Anderson. Carter Gendreau looked at 25 shots in the Elks net.
The Royals toppled Edmonton Southside 7-4 in the other semifinal.
In pool play Saturday, Indy Graphics suffered their first setback of the tournament after three straight wins with a 4-3 loss to the Spruce Grove Saints.
Keagan Kingwell, with two goals, and Ryan Morrell scored for the Chiefs, who held a 31-24 advantage in shots. Anderson and Geordan Andrew combined to make 20 saves in a losing cause.
Meanwhile, the Elks posted a pair of wins — 5-0 over the Taber Golden Suns and 3-2 over the Peace River Royals— to finish second to the Royals in Pool B with a record of three wins and one loss.
Gendreau turned aside all 15 shots he faced in the win over Taber, while Sterling, Tyler Wall, Austin Lawson, Brady Park and Keenan Scott supplied the goals.
Kobe Scott’s second-period tally was the winner against Peace River. Matthew Froehlick and Sterling also scored for the Elks, who got a 12-save outing from Gendreau.
In other pool games Saturday, Wheatland and Peace River tied 3-3, the Wainwright Polar Kings got past Spruce Grove 5-3, Edmonton Southside was a 6-1 winner over the Northeast Panthers, the Royals hammered Wheatland 8-1 and Southside defeated Wainwright 5-3.