As appeared in the Melfort Journal
The season is over for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
The Melfort Mustangs lost Thursday’s battle to the MOB by a 3-2 score in overtime, but recovered to take a 4-2 decision in Saturday’s semi-final at the 2015 Western Canada Cup, giving them their first trip to the Royal Bank Cup since the 1996.
“It feels pretty good for our hockey club,” Mustangs head coach Trevor Blevins said. “We worked so hard this year — on and off the ice – right from the board of directors, to fans, to volunteers, everyone’s who chipped in and helped us out, these guys don’t forget that.
“They just did a heck of a job this week. We fought through a bit of adversity and maybe didn’t have the record that we wanted, but when you can win when the chips are down and find a way to get it done, it’s a nice feeling for our group.”
Adam Fauchoux, the Mustangs’ scoring leader for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s post-season, ignited his team’s offence midway through the first period. The MOB wouldn’t have to wait long to respond though as the hero from Thursday’s game, Mitchell Vanderlaan, tipped home a pass from Trent Lofthouse 4:24 later to tie the game up after one.
Aiming not to fall into the same pattern as Thursday, the Mustangs tightened up their game in the second period, limiting the MOB’s entries in the offensive zone and beating them to a disproportionate amount of dump-ins. When the MOB did get through the Mustangs’ defence, goaltender Richard Palmer was there, making one of his 24 stops in the game to keep the MOB frustrated and behind on the scoreboard.
“We were pretty upset about losing that one,” Palmer said of Thursday’s loss. “We almost had it there with 16 seconds left so come in today (and) get the win meant a lot to us.
“We were going 100% all game and we knew we responded well.”
At the other end of the ice, the Mustangs threw everything they could at Zach Fortin, eventually finding a way to crack through the goaltender’s armour.
After Cole Hyrsky gave the Mustangs the lead 12:15 into the second, Eric Sinclair finished off a mad scramble in front of Fortin at the 17:09 mark of the period on the power play, giving the Mustangs a two-goal lead to play with in the third.
Staring down an end to their season, the MOB attempted to engineer another comeback, only to fall short for the first time during the week-long tournament. The MOB did make things interesting with 1:47 left in the period as Mark Drohan’s point shot was defected by Austin Holmes in the front of the net to bring the home side within one.
That’s as close as the Mustangs would let it come though as Tristan Frei finished off the game in the final minute with an empty-net goal to seal the victory and send the Mustangs to the national championship.
“I don’t think anyone outside that room believed in us at all,” MOB head coach Curtis Hunt said, reflecting on the team’s 3-1 record in the round robin after exiting the league playoffs in the first round.
“Our guys came together, they became a team again, they worked extremely hard. We did a lot of good things and it’s just unfortunate. It’s tough to beat a team twice in a tournament.”
The loss by the MOB means that for the first time since the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Royal Bank Cup, the Alberta Junior Hockey League will miss out on appearing at editions of the RBC Cup in consecutive seasons.
The Mustangs berth also marked the first time a team with a losing record from the round robin at the Western Canada Cup had qualified for the Royal Bank Cup.