Cloverdale’s U18 Colts came up short in their bronze medal game March 23.
The A1 Colts fell 4-0 to the Victoria Admirals in the third-place game at the provincial championships held in Fleetwood.
Qualifying as the host team, Cloverdale made it further than any other Lower Mainland team.
The Colts had a solid round robin. They started their campaign with back-to-back shutouts, first blanking the Chilliwack Jr. Bruins 1-0 and then blanking the North Central/North West Bobcats 3-0. They lost to the eventual tournament gold medalists Okanagan Central Rockets 5-1 in their final round-robin match.
In their semi-final tilt, the Colts lost an OT thriller against the North East Trackers 3-2. After that game, they met the Admirals for the bronze.
And although Cloverdale was an OT goal away from making the gold medal game, head coach Brien Gemmell said any disappointment now, upon reflection, will soon turn to pride.
“I’m proud of how our boys handled themselves,” Gemmell said. “They’ll take great things away from this experience. We got a top-four finish in the province this year and it’s phenomenal for our group and for our association.”
Even though the scoreline was 4-0, it was still a competitive game.
“The game wasn’t one of our best games,” Gemmell noted. “But we left everything on the ice. Victoria is a good hockey team, a big skating hockey team, and we knew it would be a challenge.”
In that bronze medal game, Cloverdale and Victoria played a tough, hard-hitting first period as both U18 squads threw a tonne of checks and created good chances to score. Victoria potted two goals in the opening frame, but it was apparent early that Cloverdale wasn’t getting any bounces.
In the second, Cloverdale had some good scoring chances, but just couldn’t convert. And the Colts were still very much in the game. The action was end-to-end with big hits and big saves and goalie Zarek Purewal was outstanding.
Cloverdale’s bronze-medal hopes didn’t start to unravel until that last five minutes of the period.
Victoria got their third goal with about 4:27 left in the second. The puck made its way through traffic off a one-timer from the point. Purewal tracked the puck a microsecond too late after being screened on the play. The puck beat him high, stickside.
Less than a minute later, the Colts were give a power play after an Admirals player was sent to the sin bin for a boarding call. He had hammered Keenan Connor into the boards from behind, but Connor shook the hit off as he skated to the bench.
The Colts won the next draw as Keagan Bankier unleashed a one-timer from the blueline that found the back of the net. However, the referee called the goal off on goalie interference, insisting Captain Ashan Khangura ran into the Admirals’ goalie.
Jubilant cheers turned immediately sour. Colts’ fans jammed behind the net watched in disbelief as the ref frantically pointed to the offside face-off dot, indicating the draw would be in the neutral zone.
On the play in question, Khangura won a tough draw and Cloverdale recovered the puck. The Colts worked the puck around and the biscuit made its way to Bankier. Bankier’s one-timer found mesh after Khangura was pushed into the crease and eventually onto the Admirals goalie.
It was a bang-bang play: puck to the point; Khangura pushed into the crease, but no contact with the goalie; Khangura moved away from the crease; goalie skates forward; puck lasered into the back of the net by Bankier; Khangura pushed onto goalie. (See video, from 1:16:48, to judge for yourself.)
After the disallowed goal, the wind seemed to come out of the Colts’ sails. Victoria added a late tally after scoring on a breakaway goal with under a minute to play.
Cloverdale played well defensively in the third and replacement goalie Koen St. Hilaire turned aside all shots. Cloverdale kept the pressure on and had some good chances, but they couldn’t buy a goal. Pucks rang off posts, ricocheted off defensemen’s legs and sticks, and many shot attempts missed the net; pucks trickled over bluelines and bounced over blades. It just wasn’t their night.
Gemmell admitted the disallowed goal was a key turning point in the game.
“It’s a tough break because at that point in the game it was 3-0,” he said. “If we score, it’s 3-1. And who knows what happens at that point. You’re looking at a different game. If you can get another one after that it’s 3-2.”
He said Victoria weathered a lot of sustained pressure from the Colts, but his boys couldn’t find the net.
“These are finite details,” he explained. “When you play at this level, especially in the semi-final or a medal game, if you have a couple lapses, you’re down by two goals. It’s those finite details that make the difference in the game. It’s the difference between playing for first or second or playing for third/fourth.”
Gemmell said pushing the Trackers to overtime in the semifinal—who themselves pushed the Okanagan team to overtime in the gold-medal game—is a testament to the work ethic, the skill level, and the resiliency of his players.
“To think that we were a goal away from being in that final shows how good these kids are,” he added. “That Trackers team is a big team. We knew we’d have to play a bigger game, a tougher game, and those boys left everything out on the ice in that semi-final.”
As for his 2021-2022 Colts team, Gemmell said only four players are graduating.
“We lose Dawsen Ribeiro. He’s a fast, physical player. He has a lot of skill. He worked very hard this year for us and we wish him the best. He has an opportunity to go play some junior hockey, if he chooses to,” said Gemmell.
“Linden Kodak is a phenomenal team player and an individual, as well. He’s a defenseman that’s played in this association for his entire hockey career. Graduating as a third-year player is quite an honour for anyone, so he deserves all the accolades. His demeanour and quiet leadership was an asset to this team,” he added.
“Gurman Parhar came to us two years ago from North Van Academy. He’s a great leader, works really hard, he’s calm. He was a glue guy for us, really a good glue guy for our team, kept us together and kept things calm, from a player standpoint, if we needed it. And a really super person and great hockey player,” he said.
“Finally, our captain Ashan Khangura. What can I say about him? He was obviously the heart and soul of our team and he plays with his heart on his sleeve every game. Just a really good person that plays hard and stands up for his players when he has to. And he scored some pretty big goals for us this year.
“We wish these four guys nothing but the best.”
Gemmell said next season looks bright for the team as they potentially have a lot of returning players. Although he said, some of kids may make Junior B teams or make a team in the B.C. U18 AAA league.
“A lot of these kids will have options in the offseason,” explained Gemmell. “So it’s tough to say now how many kids we do get back, but we’ll definitely have a strong core.
“And we’ll definitely have a very competitive team next year,” he added, “and one that can push for a provincial championship.”
Final 2022 U18 Tier 1 AA Tournament Rankings
1.) Okanagan Central Region
2.) North East Trackers
3.) Victoria Admirals
4.) Cloverdale Colts
5.) Ridge Meadows Rustlers
6.) Chilliwack Jr. Bruins
7.) East Kootenay Zone
8.) North Central/North West