By Scott Briggs - Brunswick News
NEW GLASGOW – The Halifax McDonalds will play for a national championship.
© CHRISTOPHER CAMERON - THE NEWS
Saint John Vito's defenceman Marcus Tesink shakes hands with Halifax McDonalds forward Jordan Yochoff after Sunday’s Atlantic Major Midget Hockey Championship final at the Pictou County Wellness Centre. Halifax defeated Saint John 5-4 to advance to the Telus Cup.
In a game loaded with emotion and momentum swings, the McDonalds edged the Saint John Vitos 5-4 to win the gold medal at the Atlantic major midget hockey championship Sunday at the Wellness Centre. Halifax advances to the Telus Cup, the Canadian championship tournament that runs April 21-27 in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Johnny Jones scored a hat trick for the McDonalds, while Justin Doiron and Luc Poirier added singles. Poirier, Cody Grant and Morgan Nauss tallied two assists apiece for Halifax (5-0). Justin Ritcey made 12 saves and Reilly Pickard stopped 18 in relief.
Matthew Gray, Tyler Copeland, Jean-Michel Leblanc and Curtis Hastings scored for the Vito’s, who led 4-3 after the second period after falling behind 2-0 in the first period. Saint John (3-2) evened the affair before the opening frame had ended and grabbed a 4-2 lead with two quick goals early in the second stanza. Gray tallied two assists in the losing cause and Kyle Porter made 20 saves.
“We’ve got a really experienced group and there was no panic at all,” Halifax head coach Tim Boyce said about the mood after 40 minutes. “The kids came out and they did it. The players earned it on the ice today and I’m just happy to be part of it.”
Halifax took a 1-0 lead when Doiron scored on the power play at 10:16 of the first period. Jones made it 2-0 just 1:24 later and things looked even bleaker for Saint John when Copeland was called for interference at 13:48.
But Gray got past the Halifax defence and put a deadly deke on Ritcey for a short-handed goal at 14:32. Copeland scored on the power play at 16:44 to tie the tilt 2-2.
Leblanc gave Saint John a 3-2 lead at 1:17 of the second period, wiring a wrister past Ritcey after Saint John centre Sam King had won the draw. Hastings put Saint John up 4-2 just 26 seconds later, prompting Boyce to call a timeout while pulling Ritcey in favour of Pickard.
“It wasn’t that Justin wasn’t playing well,” Boyce said. “We needed a momentum shift. They came hard at us at the start (of the second period). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and today it did.”
Jones notched his second of the contest at 6:32 of the second, pulling Halifax within one. The McDonalds pulled even when Jones whacked home a rebound at 3:55 of the third period.
Poirier cashed in from close range with 4:22 left in regulation to give Halifax a 5-4 lead. It appeared Leblanc had tied the contest with 3:51 left, but it was ruled he had kicked the puck in after a lengthy deliberation.
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“I’m not going to comment on that,” Leblanc said. “It was the referee’s decision and they don’t always make the best decision, but they’re human.
“It’s not the result we wanted, but we played well and just came out on the wrong end. I feel we should have come out on top, but it’s one game.”
Jones said his initial impression was that the goal would stand.
“Everyone was nervous (during the deliberation),” he said. “We thought the game was tied.”
Saint John gained a draw in Halifax’s end with 1:11 left and Vitos head coach Ken Dobson pulled Porter and called a timeout. The Vitos kept the puck in Halifax’s end, but they couldn’t capitalize and the McDonalds finally cleared their zone with six seconds left.
“That was probably one of the scariest parts of my hockey career,” Jones said. “Our coach knew who to put on the ice to finish the game and they did a good job.”
Major Midget Atlantics tournament awards
Top scorer - Mark Vokey (Weeks)
Top goaltender - Reilly Pickard (Halifax)
Top forward - Jean-Michael LeBlanc (Saint John)
Top defenceman - Morgan Nauss (Halifax)
Most Sportsmanlike Player - Jordan Maher (Central)
ESSO Kids Scholarship - Colin MacSween (Saint John)
MVP - Shawn Hubley (Halifax)
Goaltender - Justin Ritcey (Halifax)
Defenceman - Logan Saunders (Saint John)
Defenceman - Tyler Gunn (Saint John)
Forward - Sam Jay (Kensington)
Forward - Lane Cormier (Weeks)
Forward - Colin MacSween (Saint John)