Knights Win Memorial Cup On Tkachuk OT Goal
Knights 3 Huskies 2 (OT)
Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t convinced that he had actually scored the biggest goal of his hockey career.
“I thought, ‘no way this has happened’,” said the London Knights star forward, after his goal at 7:49 of overtime lifted his club to a 3-2 win over the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the MasterCard Memorial Cup final Sunday at the Enmax Centrium.
“I had to make sure,” said Tkachuk, who fell into the end boards while celebrating the Memorial Cup winning marker. “The goalie looked up and I fell over myself I was so happy.
“It’s awesome . . . a special feeling.”
Tkachuk skated into the left faceoff circle and unleashed a wrist shot that caught the top of the net behind a screened Huskies goalie Chase Marchand.
The goal, his second of the afternoon, ended a fast-paced, entertaining contest played in front of a gathering of 7,384. It also capped a highly successful tournament that drew praise from Canadian Hockey League commissioner Dave Branch prior to his presenting the Memorial Cup to Knights captain Christian Dvorak.
Marchand was convinced the puck struck either a body or a stick before entering the net.
“It was a redirect, a tough bounce. But that’s hockey,” he said softly.
Tkachuk played the entire 10-day event with a bothersome ankle after suffering an injury early in the Ontario Hockey League final.
“At the beginning of the Niagara series I sprained it and it’s been tough to play,” he said. “It wasn’t 100 per cent, but you can’t give up on the guys who have battled all year for you. You have to do the same thing in return.”
Marchand, who was brilliant in a 3-1 semifinal win over the host Red Deer Rebels Friday, was back in top form in the championship contest, denying Max Jones from in close and stopping JJ Piccinich from the low slot during a scoreless first period.
He made a great glove save on Aaron Berisha during a London power play early in the second frame, but Tkachuk, while skating across the crease, tipped home a shot from Mitch Marner near the midway point of the period.
The goal seemingly took on extra significance, coming near the half-way point of regulation time, but the Huskies answered back just 15 seconds later when Timo Meier, from behind the net, back-handed a pass in front that was converted by Francis Perron.
Julien Nantel gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead when he connected at 9:13 of the third period, cashing a feed from Alexandre Fortin, who bolted over the blueline and carried the puck down low before finding his teammate breaking to the net.
The go-ahead marker threatened to stand up as the winner, especially with the Huskies’ penalty kill in fine form due to active sticks and blocks that took away the Knights’ cross-ice passes and ensuing one-timers that worked so well earlier in the tournament.
London went zero-for-five with a man advantage after entering the game nine-for-20 on the power play.
“We had some good looks though,” said Knights head coach Dale Hunter. “Their goalie made some good saves, you have to give him credit too.”
London drew even with a mere 4:11 remaining in regulation time, Berisha moving the puck behind the Rouyn-Noranda net and throwing a pass out front that Dvorak buried with a quick release.
“It wasn’t that bad, actually,” said Perron of the mood on the Huskies bench when Dvorak scored. “We were pretty positive We knew we were playing good hockey.
“Of course they scored with four minutes to go so we had to make sure we got the focus back so we didn’t give them another one.”
“It was an up and down game, back and forth. We just had to get back into our game and refocus,” added Marchand.
The Knights threatened down the stretch and created two quality scoring chances from the low slot in the final minute, but one shot was blocked and the other struck the crossbar.
Tkachuk tipped a shot that struck a post early in the extra frame and after a close call at the other end two minutes later, finally potted the winner.
Hunter compared his 2016 championship team — which entered the tournament on a 13-game win streak — to the 2005 version that won the Memorial Cup with the likes of Corey Perry, Rob Schremp, Dave Bolland, Marc Methot and Brandon Prust in the lineup.
“To win 17 in a row and to win this tournament . . . it’s right up there. They’re equal,” he said. “To win this championship . . . it’s so special. I played my whole career (without winning an NHL title).
“It’s so hard battling good teams, that’s why it comes down to overtime or something late in a game. It was definitely a battle out there. (Goaltender Tyler Parsons) made some big saves for us to keep us in it, but then we were resilient enough to score the big goal.
“It’s hard enough to get here, a lot harder to win it. You have to beat out three teams, the best in the country. To come here and win four straight is unbelievable, just like we did on ’05.”
Knights superstar winger Marner, who on Saturday was named the CHL’s most outstanding player for the 2015-16 season and picked up Memorial Cup MVP honours after leading the tournament in scoring, lauded his teammates for pressing forward for the late third-period goal.
“Being down 2-1 in the third with just a few minutes left, we never gave up, and that’s the best thing about this team,” he said.
Marner might have played his final game with the Knights, despite the fact he just turned 19 in early May. He was the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round draft pick — fourth overall — last year and could open the 2016-17 season with the NHL squad.
“That’s not up to me. We’ll see when the summer and the new season comes,” he said.
And if he is back in London next year . . . ?
“If I could win another one of these It would be perfect,” he stated.” I’m really proud of the team.”
Marner finished the tournament with 14 points (2g,12a), two short of the record.
“I don’t care about that at all. I just wanted to lift this cup over my head,” he said.
For the Huskies, the game also marked the end of the major junior trail for overagers Perron and Marchand and most likely Meier.
“The people and everything from the start of the year to the end has been incredible,” said the Huskies goaltender, who finished the Memorial Cup championship game with 30 saves, one more than Parsons. “I learned so much from so many different people and had so many relationships with my teammates and coaches.
“It’s tough to say goodbye to all of them. We have so many great memories. Just because we lost today doesn’t mean we’re losers. We accomplished so much during the year and I’ll remember this forever.”
Perron praised his netminder.
“He made key saves today and he was great all year,” said Perron. “We’re really proud of what he did and we could have won that game. It happened that we lost but we’re really proud of what we did. Like I said, it could have gone either way.”
Meier, meanwhile, will likely turn pro this year with the San Jose Sharks organization. The Swiss forward was the ninth overall pick in last year’s NHL entry draft and turns 20 in October.
Meier was dealt from the Halifax Mooseheads to the Huskies in January.
“I was really happy to get to go to a place like Rouyn,” he said. “Right from the start when I got there I made some really close friends and I could really feel that this is a special team.
“We showed that this group was special. We had such a fun year and got so tight as a team.”
- Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury was selected to the Memorial Cup all-star team, joining London’s Olli Juolevi on the blueline. Parsons was named as the all-star — and outstanding — goaltender while the all-star forwards selected were Marner, Dvorak and Meier . . . Perron garnered the tournament’s sportsmanship award.