“We’re not done yet.”
That was Wheatland Chiefs forward Chayse Hnatowich’s message after sweeping the Airdrie Lighting 2-0 in the South Central Alberta Hockey League best-of-three final.
The local double-A midget team wrapped up their third straight league title by grounding the Lightning 3-1 March 18 at the Ron Ebbesen Arena.
“This is a great feeling. They deserve everything they’ve worked for this year,” said Chiefs head coach Evan Barlow.
The framework for the league title began in the first period in Game 2 when, for the second straight game, the Lightning jumped out to an early 1-0 lead.
The Lightning were a bit of a surprise to come out of the North division and tried to wear down the Chiefs defensive core early by dumping the puck in and following it up with a suppressing forecheck.
One-goal leads don’t faze the high-octane Chiefs. Even without their captain Ryan Bell, who was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for colliding knee-on-knee with Jordan Hodzic, the Chiefs battled back.
Hnatowich launched a backhander from a sharp angle, as the rebound cascaded out to Riley Romashenko, who dished the puck into the open net at the 3:16 mark of the second frame.
Building off that momentum, Romashenko jammed a Lightning clearing attempt along the half-wall, created some space and sent a sweet feed over to Rob Butterwick at the side of the net for the easy tap-in.
In the first period, Brett LeGrandeur took a five-minute major for tripping, sending the Chiefs to a lengthy power play.
Typically a recipe for disaster, the Chiefs were unable to muster any goals. Then, with the Lightning on the five-minute power play for Bell’s major, the Chiefs delivered the dagger.
Brady Skiffington intercepted Lightning goaltender Justin Fedoruk’s breakout pass from behind the net and jammed it in on his second crack at it with 58 seconds remaining on the Bell infraction.
Two goals of support feels like overkill on insurance when Ty Tarvyd is in net. The Chiefs puck-stopper hasn’t lost a game all year, and slammed the door shut in the finals after allowing a puck to squeak past him in the first periods of each game.
“We have a lot of confidence in Tarvyd and he exudes when he is out there,” said Barlow. “As a tandem, we feel like both of our goalies are the best in the league when you look at the numbers. We can throw either one of them out there with the most confidence.”
The Lightning had a glimmer of hope with 8:31 remaining in the third when Isaac Benoit reached for a puck on the penalty kill and got called for tripping, sending Airdrie to the five-on-three for 1:30, but the Chiefs penalty kill unit snuffed them out.
“Killing big penalties really brings us together and help get us going. The five minute kill and the ones at the end of the game were huge for us,” said Romashenko.
Following the final horn, the players celebrated capturing their second banner in the past two weeks, and were joined by family and friends on the ice.
Game 1 followed a similar script March 17 at the Strathmore Family Centre in front of a strong crowd featuring several alumni players. The Lightning scored first, but the Chiefs powered back, led by Hnatowich’s three-point performance.
First he helped set up Lucas Muenchrath to even the score just prior to the first intermission, and then found the back of the net after gaining the zone with a full head of steam five minutes into the second.
The degree of difficulty on Romashenko’s marker in the third was off the charts. Taking a pass from Hnatowich behind the net in his skates, in one motion, he kicked the puck up to his stick, made a quick move to the right and shovelled in a backhand, all while being crosschecked to the ground.
Butterwick supplied a power play goal halfway through the third from Benoit and Romashenko to sink the Lightning.
In doing so, the Chiefs advance to provincials for the third straight year, as they search for the first provincial title in the organization’s 25-year history.
Provincials kick off March 30 in Okotoks.