It took a few years for the Deloraine Royals to get beyond the Tiger Hills Hockey League West Division final, but once they did they proved to be unstoppable.
The Royals not only won their division this season, but they went on to claim the league title and, on Saturday, they became provincial Senior A champions. Ryan Marsh scored on a penalty shot late in the third period to put the Royals up for good in Winnipeg as they edged the South East Manitoba Hockey League’s Altona Maroons 3-1 in the Hockey Manitoba Cup Senior A final.
"It’s just the greatest," said Deloraine assistant captain Brett Morrison. "Just looking around the room and seeing everybody and the excitement in their eyes and then to come out of the room and have a countless number of people who have made the trip in friends, family, fans, it didn’t really matter. It’s the people who were cheering for us that made this happen for us.
"I’m kind of lost for words right now. It’s big for the guys in the room but even bigger for the people outside of it."
Saturday’s final was nothing like Deloraine’s 8-1 win over Altona in the round-robin portion of the tournament. Blaine Jarvis gave the Royals a 1-0 lead, but the tide seemed to be favouring the Maroons as the middle frame came to an end.
Altona tied the game with five minutes left in the third before Marsh, who is one of Deloraine’s best players in the shootout, got hauled down on a breakaway and was awarded the penalty shot, which eased the minds of the Royals players. Mitch Olson then added an empty-netter to ice the game.
"It was pretty gut-wrenching when they tied it up with five minutes left, but that whole feeling was lifted when that penalty shot was given," Morrison said. "It was like a weight off your shoulder, even when they gave us the penalty shot, let alone when we scored. It was a pretty good feeling."
The Royals came into the season feeling like they were ready to break through as a legitimate contender after falling in their division final in each of the two previous seasons, and they showed it. Deloraine posted a league-best 22-3-0-0 record before winning nine of its 11 playoff games to claim the Tiger Hills title.
The Royals were just as dominant at provincials. They scored eight times in each of their round-robin victories before topping the Red River Wild 7-3 in the semifinals.
Morrison, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound left winger, admitted that even if they had lost the provincial final that the season would be worth celebrating, but Saturday’s victory was the perfect ending to what was a fantastic season.
"It’s been a great year. It’s nice to cap it off the way we did," he said. "It’s been a great season and I hope the guys will reconnect next year and do it again."
ICINGS: Deloraine captain Joel Whiteside left Saturday’s game midway through the second period with a broken jaw after blocking a shot.