The Brandon 11A Wheat Kings felt like they were the WHL club playing in the Tournament of Champions Peewee A final on Sunday at Westman Place, and they celebrated their title like they just won the Memorial Cup.
Helmets, gloves and sticks went flying into the air when the final buzzer sounded in their 5-3 victory over Shoal Lake/Rossburn, and the players swarmed goalie Matthew Simard in celebration. Simard had a big game, making 27 stops, with most of the shots he faced coming in the final period.
For him, winning a Tournament of Champions title on the Westman Place ice with the jumbotron showing the game live and replays made the event something he’ll remember forever.
"It was awesome," Simard said. "It makes you feel like an actual Wheat King."
The 11A squad had a successful run at the four-day hockey tournament, now in its 45th year. The Wheat Kings went 2-0-1 in the round-robin to top their group before beating the Winnipeg East Railcats 10-0 in the semifinals.
Brandon exploded for three first-period goals in the final and survived a late charge from Shoal Lake/Rossburn, which netted all of its goals in the final frame.
Lex Friesen and Calder Anderson both had a goal and an assist for Brandon, while Jack Pelechaty, Mitch Thiessen and Carson McDonald also found the back of the net. Owen Murray and Cole Muir both had a goal and an assist for Shoal Lake/Rossburn, with Chad Nychuk supplying the other marker.
Craig Anderson, Brandon’s head coach, was impressed with his players’ ability to shut down Shoal Lake/Rossburn’s top line for most of the final and pull out the event championship, even though most of his players were a year younger in age than their opponents.
"If you look at it in the scheme of things, it’s a tough tournament to win," he said. "You have to win a lot of games in a short period of time, trying to stay with some energy.
"The biggest thing when you get in big tournaments like this is the mental part of the game. The guys get tired and they get fatigued and mentally they start making mistakes, but our goaltender was good today. And credit to the boys. They worked hard."
Meanwhile, the Brandon Wheat Kings defeated the North Western Ontario Stars 6-2 for the Peewee AA championship, the Rivers Jets beat the Souris Elks 7-3 in the Atom A final and River East Black edged River East White 4-3 in the Atom AA final.
The second week of the Tournament of Champions will feature Bantam A, AA and AAA teams as well as a female Peewee AA event. It will run from Thursday to Sunday in the three arenas at the Keystone Centre as well as the Sportsplex and Rivers’ arena.