Monday, 11 March 2013

Championship Rivalry

I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 Manitoba High School Athletics Association AAAA Boys Hockey Final tonight as my former high school was looking for its first AAAA Provincial Championship in hockey. I attended John Taylor Collegiate for three years, and was part of the 1997 AAAA Provincial Championship volleyball team during that era. Of course, our arch-rivals were the Oak Park Raiders during this time, and this rivalry still exists today with as much vitriol as the Leafs-Canadiens or the Yankees-Red Sox. Tonight, the John Taylor Pipers met the Oak Park Raiders in the winner-take-all Provincial Championship Final.

I have to admit that the level of skill in Manitoba high school hockey has jumped up a number of notches since I was in high school. John Taylor Collegiate has produced some quality teams over the years that have fallen short, but this year's squad was solid from top to bottom on the roster. They work hard, they capitalize on mistakes, and they defend their zone like bees defending a hive. I was hopeful that the John Taylor-Oak Park rivalry would produce a great final, and what was delivered was beyond expectations.

Because these two teams are divisional rivals during the regular season, there is a lot of familiarity between the two teams. John Taylor had won five of six games against Oak Park this season including the Winnipeg High School Hockey League championship final in February. If they were to win tonight, John Taylor Collegiate would become just the third school in Manitoba history to win both the Winnipeg league and the Manitoba title in the same season. For Oak Park, this game meant erasing all of those losses in one fell swoop as they were literally 50 minutes away from glory. Adding in the hatred these two teams have for one another in a heated rivalry made this battle seem more like the Hatfield-McCoy feud rather than a spirited hockey game.

The game opened up with John Taylor applying a ton of pressure. Credit the defence corps of the Oak Park Raiders for bending but not breaking as goaltender Tyler Dodd turned away a lot of rubber thrown his direction. The first period featured a couple of big hits as these two teams looked for blood as the seconds ticked down. Neither team would dent twine, however, as the period closed in a scoreless draw.

The second period was a complete change as the Oak Park coaches stressed getting pucks deep and wearing down the Pipers defence. The Raiders were the dominant team in the middle frame, throwing everything they had at the Pipers net, but Brett Bigourdin stood tall. Much to my delight, John Taylor's Dalton Saari threw a hipcheck at the Pipers' blue line that would have made Scott Stevens smile! However, neither team gave an inch in the second period, and the score would remain 0-0 as the third period approached.

The third period started out with chances at both ends as both the Pipers and Raiders pressed for a goal. With the Raiders defencemen pinching, Nicholas Pierce tipped a puck out to center and was off to the races with teammate Tyler Kemball. Kemball got a shot away on the 2-on-1, but Dodd couldn't wrangle the rebound. Defenceman Graham Philp beat his check to the loose puck and fired a shot to the back of the net to put the Pipers up 1-0!

Three minutes later saw a horrid giveaway where a Pipers defenceman tried to fire a puck up the middle to a streaking forward only to have it knocked down in the slot. Jeremy Hope and Dylan Zeke both got a shot off before Robbie Cairns flipped a backhander past Bigourdin to even the score at 1-1.

It appeared that neither team was content in allowing their opposition to gain an inch, and whispers of overtime could be heard throughout the crowd as the time ticked down. However, a solid forecheck by the Pipers created a turnover in the Raiders' zone, and Raiders captain Tyson Bannatyne was forced to haul Nicholas Pierce to the ice for a holding penalty. The Pipers went to work, moving the puck well, before a slapshot from Graham Philp was tipped on the left side of the goal by Christian Vallance past Dodd for a John Taylor powerplay goal! With just 1:50 to play, the Pipers held a 2-1 lead!

Oak Park pulled Dodd for the extra attacker and applied some serious pressure. John Taylor used some excellent work along the boards to allow time to tick down, forcing Oak Park into pinching again. Christian Vallance chipped a puck past a pinching defenceman and streaked down the right wing towards the open net. A well-placed shot gave Vallance his second goal of the game, and the Pipers were up 3-1 with :55 left in the game.

With a championship within their grasps, the pro-John Taylor crowd started up the "Na na na hey hey goodbye" song as their team skated the clock down. For two teams with a rich history of battles throughout the years, both teams had to be proud of their efforts considering this epic battle tonight. However, one team had to win, and your 2013 Manitoba High School Hockey Provincial Champions are the John Taylor Pipers!
The Pipers ended a 22-year drought in boy's hockey with the Provincial Championship tonight. It's a pretty impressive win for John Taylor when you consider their enrollment is a mere 600 students, and 21 players tried out for the 17-man squad. Needless to say, the team came together through some great coaching and solid friendships. Twelve of the seventeen players have been playing together since they were eleven years-old.

The MHSAA Hockey All-Stars were announced, and the two finalists dominated the selections:
  • Dylan Zeke (Oak Park Raiders).
  • Tyson Bannatyne (Oak Park Raiders).
  • Tyler Dodd (Oak Park Raiders).
  • Tyler MacPherson (River East Kodiaks).
  • Christian Vallance (John Taylor Pipers).
  • Graham Philp (John Taylor Pipers).
Last, but certainly not least, the MVP of the tournament was named, and goaltender Brett Bigourdin took the honors as he led his team through the round-robin and playoffs of the Provincial Championships with a perfect 4-0-0 record.

Congratulations to the John Taylor Collegiate Pipers, the 2013 Manitoba AAAA Boys Provincial Hockey Champions and Winnipeg High School Hockey League Champions! Nothing like a little high school pride to make one walk a little taller!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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