PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Only two Manitoba Junior Hockey League teams have captured at least three consecutive Turnbull Cup championships in the last 50 years: The Selkirk Steelers from 1974 to 1976 and the OCN Blizzard from 1999 to 2003.
Add the Portage Terriers to that esteemed list.
The Terriers, backstopped by Kurtis Chapman’s 27-save performance and Chase Brakel’s early first-period tally, held off the Blizzard for a 1-0 Game 6 victory to win the best-of-seven league final 4-2 at Stride Place on Wednesday evening.
It was a big turnaround for the Terriers, who include forwards Ty Enns of Cartwright and Josh Martin of Elkhorn as well as defenceman Layne Toder of Elkhorn, Carter McMurdo of Brandon and Killarney’s Cody Thompson — McMurdo and Martin, the playoff MVP, were acquired were acquired from the Swan Valley Stampeders on trade deadline day in early January — after they were bludgeoned 8-3 and 6-0, respectively, in Games 1 and 2 in The Pas.
But led by Chapman’s inspired play, the experienced Terriers scratched their way back into the series with gritty 3-2 and 4-3 home-ice triumphs in Games 3 and 4, the latter of which was decided in overtime.
"I think we kind of went up there and were shocked by the atmosphere," Martin said. "I think we were a pretty young team and we knew coming home we were still confident."
Game 5 was essentially another one-goal game until Ryan Hendrix salted it away with an empty-net marker late in the third period.
And with a chance to advance to the Western Canada Cup on the line, it was Chapman’s outstanding play that propelled the Terriers into rarified air as they claimed an 11th MJHL title.
The WCC will be held from April 29 to May 7 in Penticton, B.C.
"It’s big and what you dream of winning all the time when you’re in the MJHL," Martin said.
"Our goalie stepped up big in the last four games," he continued. "It was pretty impressive."
The Terriers knocked off the Steinbach Pistons in the league final in five games last season and swept the Pistons two years ago.
Brakel ignited the sold-out crowd of 2,188 a mere 1:16 into the opening period when he perfectly deflected a James McIsaac pass past Blizzard netminder Brett Epp.
Jeremey Leipsic, who led the MJHL in regular-season scoring with 100 points, drew the secondary helper for his playoff-leading 20th point.
George King had a glorious opportunity to tie the game in the final minute of the first but he was denied in tight by Chapman with the Blizzard on the man advantage.
OCN, which includes defenceman Taran Lacquette of Dauphin, would get three more power-play chances in the first half of the second period, prompting boos to rain down from the hometown fans. But the visitors were unable to convert, shattering lumber on three shot attempts while up a man.
The best chance the Blizzard had, however, was when the teams were at even strength when Maverick Rafter blasted a shot from the point that Chapman snatched out of the air with a wicked glove save.
"He was huge, he stood on his head every game and just played amazing," Toder said.
Named to the MJHL all-rookie team this season, Toder was at a loss for words in the on-ice celebration that followed.
"It’s definitely something that we worked for right at the start and we just trusted our coaches that we were going to come together and leave it all on the ice," he added.
The Blizzard tried repeatedly to put a puck past Chapman as they scrambled to force overtime in the final 20 minutes but were shunned on every attempt by the Portage goaltender.
His counterpart, Epp, turned aside 19 shots in between the pipes for OCN.
The Terriers went 0-for-2 on the power play, while the Blizzard failed to convert on their four chances.
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