Alberta 6 Manitoba 4
BLACKFALDS — Team Alberta captain and Red Deer Rebels prime prospect Matt Dumba was still buzzing 45 minutes after the fact.
“The adrenalin rush is just flying high right now. What a great feeling to come back in the last few minutes of the game,” said Dumba, following the Alberta squad’s dramatic come-from-behind 6-4 win over Team Manitoba in the gold-medal contest of the inaugural Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup played before more than 500 fans at the Multi-Plex.
The Albertans trailed 3-1 after one period and 3-2 after a middle frame in which they dominated. The resilient Manitoba team held off another Alberta surge in the third period and appeared to have matters well in hand when Sutton Olson upped the count to 4-2 with just three minutes remaining, but then it all fell apart for the visitors.
Peter Quenneville solved a seemingly unbeatable Manitoba goaltender Brenden Fiebelkorn at 18:43, Troy Bourke pulled Alberta even 18 seconds later and Levi Bews notched the winner with only another 10 ticks off the clock.
Three goals plus an empty-net marker from Mitch Moroz in a little over a minute. Unreal.
“We just kept on working and it paid off,” said Dumba, who just recently recovered from a shoulder ailment and hopes to suit up with the Rebels for at least a portion of his five allowed WHL games as an underage player in late December.
“It’s unbelievable what they did. That wouldn’t happen very many times, but they (players) believed in themselves,” said Alberta head coach Trevor Keeper of Red Deer. “That was probably No. 1 on the list of comebacks, but again it was all about confidence and the guys just kind of had an air about them where they thought they could get the next one.”
As Keeper noted, the Alberta players were good students.
“We kept talking in the (second-period) intermission and throughout the whole third period about drawing a line in the sand, about continuing to push back,” said Keeper. “It got pretty tense when we gave up that fourth goal and I know a lot of times that players, especially of this age, will maybe cave in at such a time.”
“We just kept saying that we can’t doubt, that we can’t hope that we’re going to win. We have to try and believe that anything can happen. As a coaching staff you never know what’s going to happen, but with these guys . . . honestly we just kept saying get the puck to the net and see what happens. Once something good happens, it’s contagious,” said Keeper.
Jayden Hart scored Alberta’s first goal, with Manitoba’s first three markers notched by Brendan Leipsic, Colin Baudry and Braden Cuthbert.
The Challenge Cup, featuring the top 15-year-olds from the four western provinces, was all about speed and intensity and both were on display in a big way during Sunday’s championship game.
“For 15-year-olds, there wasn’t a lot of room out there. It wasn’t just a high level of skill, they also played team systems,” said Keeper. “It wasn’t pond hockey that you might normally see at a midget level. It was high-end, well-executed hockey.”
Dumba credited the tournament organizers and the people of Blackfalds for staging a successful tournament.
“Hockey Alberta did an amazing job, and it showed with the help of the Blackfalds volunteers,” said Dumba, a tournament all-star. “We have to thank them for everything. It was a great tournament.”
l Earlier in the day, Regan Santoro stopped 26 shots for his second straight win as Team Saskatchewan downed Team British Columbia 4-2 in the bronze-medal contest.
Taylor Leier, Andrew Johnson, Kohl Baumi and Jaimen Yakubowsk, with the third-period winner, scored for Saskatchewan, which finished the tournament with a 2-2 record. B.C., which finished 0-4, got goals from Steven Hodges and Evan Richardson.