Barry’s Bay — Irish eyes were smiling Sunday as the Irish Shamrocks captured two of the three championship titles at the 2019 Opeongo Heritage Cup hockey tournament.
The Shamrocks won the coveted Heritage Cup with an 8-2 win over the Algonquin Thunderbirds in the Open Division final while the Irish gentlemen’s teams swept the Kashubian Griffins in all three games in the 35, 45 and 55-plus categories to win the Heritage Bowl.
In the Heritage Trophy final for bragging rights in the women’s division, the Algonquin Thunderbirds edged the Kashubian Griffins 6-4.
Despite the inclement weather that dumped a foot or more of snow Saturday night and into Sunday morning, the bleachers at the Paul J. Yakabuski Community Centre grew all day in preparation for the Heritage Cup final.
The Shamrocks went into the game having won four previous Heritage Cup titles and the 2018 Reunion Cup open championship, which was hosted by the Barry’s Bay and Area Minor Hockey Association (BBAMHA), when the Heritage Cup event had to be cancelled. The Thunderbirds had won three consecutive titles from 2009 through 2011.
The Irish came out strong from the initial face-off with Thunderbirds’ goalie Josh Carolins making a good save on a hard Riley Poirier wrist shot in the first minute. They opened the scoring 1:49 into the period as Liam Poirier circled the Thunderbirds’ net and moved into the slot where he beat Carolins on the short side for a 1-0 lead. The Thunderbirds replied 3:43 later as Jason Bailey found Brandon Gagne alone at the side of the Shamrocks’ net where he tipped the puck past goalie Danny McGrath. The Shamrocks failed to score during a 5-on-3 power play later in the period and the teams headed to the dressing rooms tied at one.
The Shamrocks retook the lead 1:43 into the second period as Colby Schroeder buried a back-hander. The teams traded chances throughout much of the remainder of the period with both Carolins of the Thunderbirds and McGrath of the Shamrocks rejecting everything that came at them. The Algonquins narrowly missed tying the game but Gagne’s hard shot rang off the post behind McGrath and stayed out.
With 5:20 to go, the Algonquins were assessed a double-minor and at 4:04 another penalty gave the Irish a 5-on-3 advantage. While the Shamrocks failed to score with the two-man advantage, they added a power play marker before the second penalty had expired to take a 3-1 led. Liam Poirier spotted brother Riley driving to the net and fed him as pass that he buried past Carolins. Then, with just 38 seconds remaining in the frame, Brett Madigan was left alone in the slot and found the twine to stretch the Irish lead to 4-1 after two periods of play.
The Thunderbirds were on the power play to start the third, but managed only one shot on net thanks to the strong penalty killing by the Shamrocks. Three minutes into the period, Carolins made a big save on an Andrew McIntyre shot after the Shamrocks’ forward had stolen the puck in the Thunderbirds’ zone.
Midway through the period, the Shamrocks increased their lead to four goals as Ryan Donnelly tipped a Keenan Murray pass on net that Carolins got a piece of before it found its way into the net. With 4:55 to play, the Shamrock scored perhaps the prettiest goal of the game as Madigan finished a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play from Donnelly and Murray. Forty-four seconds later, Liam Poirier made the score 7-1, with the Shamrocks enjoying the man advantage. Phil Mullin made it 8-1 for the Shamrocks with 3:50 to go and Jordan Laronde found the twine behind McGrath with 1:29 left on the clock to make the final 8-2.
The Shamrocks qualified for the final with a 2-1 record through the round-robin, downing the Kashubian Griffins 5-3 and the German Black Eagles 7-4 before dropping their lone game to the Thunderbirds Saturday by a 6-4 count.
The Thunderbirds also posted a 2-1 record, opening the tournament with a 8-5 win over the Germans followed by a 6-5 overtime loss to the Kashubs. They recorded their second win Saturday night, defeating the Shamrocks 6-4 in a preview of the final.
In the lone other round-robin game not involving the two Heritage Cup participants, the Germans downed the Kashubs 5-2.
Last Hurrah For Irish GM
Sunday’s win by the Shamrocks was the last hurrah for General Manager Dan Conway who announced prior to the tournament he was stepping down after 14 years in the role, collecting six championships in 13 the Heritage Cup events and one in last year’s Reunion Cup.
“It’s over, I’m retiring,” Mr. Conway said after the win. “Seven championships in 14 years.”
Mr. Conway said this win by the Shamrocks is definitely the sweetest of them all as he leaves on a winning note.
“We had a great group of guys,” he said. “The first couple of games, I know we won, but I didn’t think we played that well.
“But today, they brought it,” he added. “It was great job by the coaching staff, BT (trainer Brian Tyrrell) keeping guys on the ice that are hurt and bruised, but he does it.”
Asked about Saturday night’s loss to the Thunderbirds, he said they identified some of the strengths of the Thunderbirds which they had to control on Sunday.
“67 (Brandon Gagne) likes to get in behind the D (defence), so we made sure the defence stayed back and didn’t get caught because if you give up two-on-ones or three-on-ones, you’re going to lose the game.”
He credited goalie Danny McGrath for his strong play throughout the weekend. He said McGrath, who started all but Saturday’s game against the Algonquins, was “phenomenal”.
“For a guy who hasn’t played much, he stood on his head,” he remarked.
While the Shamrocks limited the Thunderbirds’ scoring chances in the final, they gave up a lot more chances in the round-robin and McGrath held them in those contests with big saves, he said.
He said when the team failed to capitalize during the 5-on-3 later in the second period while leading 2-1, it concerned him.
“I thought if we don’t get one more before the period ended, they were going to have the momentum going into the third, big time. Then we got those two quick ones and they took a couple of penalties.”
Mr. Conway said he felt the fourth Irish goal in the last minute of the second really turned the tide for the third.
Mr. Conway added five new players to this year’s roster which bodes well for the future of the club as it has a nice mix of rookies and veterans.
Mr. Conway noted the Irish gents also captured the Heritage Bowl, in what he thought may have been the first sweep of the three games.
“So that was pretty nice,” he remarked.
He and head coach Bernie Finucane and assistant coach Andy Murray have been together since the tournament started in 2006 and they’ve enjoyed the camaraderie.
He said if he can find a new GM, he will still assist with player recruitment for the team.
As for the tournament, he said after a one-year hiatus it was back, “better than ever. “Look at the weather, it didn’t affect the crowds,” he noted.
Irish head coach Bernie Finucane praised Mr. Conway for his contributions to the team’s success over the years.
“I’ve said since I started coaching, even in minor hockey, the most important team member, on any team, is the general manager. If you don’t have a good GM or a manager at the minor hockey level, you can have the greatest team, but those people just keep everything intact.
“His research on players and building a team, not just a good team but a team that meshes, I don’t know how we’ll every replace him.”
Like Mr. Conway, he said he was nervous when the Shamrocks didn’t score on the 5-on-3 in the second.
“But for me, 5-on-3s are harder to score on than 5-on-4s. For some reason, I always find it that way. But you get a little nervous, because that’s a big momentum change if you don‘t score.”
He praised his team for their timely scoring and for holding the Thunderbirds to few good chances in the final, noting Brendan Gagne had 11 goals through the three round-robin games and they shut him down in the final.
He said after dropping Saturday night’s game to the Thunderbirds he reminded his team it had to play a “200-foot game at both ends of the ice”.
“We didn’t look after our own zone or the neutral zone the first game,” he explained. “We let them skate but we had a real good 200-foot game today.”
He said the mix of young and old on the team bodes well for the future.
Mr. Finucane said his players were aware Mr. Conway was stepping aside after this year.
“They played that game for him,” he said.
Shamrocks Take Heritage Bowl
Earlier in the afternoon, the Shamrocks won the Heritage Bowl, sweeping the three games in the gentleman’s division over the Kashubian Griffins with a 5-3 win.. The bowl is awarded to the team that wins two of the three games in the 35, 45, and 55-plus categories.
In the past, the champion is generally not decided until the third game, but this year with the Irish having won both the 55 (4-1) and 45 (5-2) games, only pride was on the line for the Kashubs in the 35-plus game on Sunday.
After the Griffins opened the scoring on a Gary Plebon tally at the 12:42 mark of the first of the two periods, Matt O’Connor netted his first of four in the game for the Irish to tie the score. Thirty-four seconds later, he gave the Shamrocks their first lead, which they would never relinquish. O’Connor completed his natural hat-trick at the 13:01 mark of the second to stretch the Irish lead to 3-1.Todd Fleguel drew the Griffins to within one of the lead with 9:46 to play but Mark Murray restored the Shamrocks’ two-goal lead 1:38 later. O’Connor increased the margin to 5-2 with two minutes left and Chris (Chummy) Gienow narrowed the gap to 5-3 with 1:36 left on the clock. But the Shamrocks held on for the win, giving the Irish a sweep of this year’s games.
Thunderbirds Stage Big Comeback For Heritage Trophy Win
One of the oldest sayings in sport about a game not being over until it’s over certainly proved true Sunday as the Algonquin Thunderbirds women’s team rallied from a 4-0 deficit at the end of the first two periods of the Heritage Trophy final to edge the Kashubian Griffins 6-4.
The Thunderbirds went into the final sporting a perfect 3-0 record from the round-robin, having defeated the Irish 5-1, the Germans 6-0 and the Kashubs 4-0. The Griffins had a 2-1 record, their only defeat at the hands of the Algonquins after a 4-0 win over the Germans and a 3-0 win over the Irish.
The Griffins drew first blood in the final with Jenna Kosnaski stealing the puck behind the Thunderbirds’ net and tucking it in the short side. Fifty-two seconds later, Summer Norlock increased the lead to 2-0, firing a lose puck by Molly Leahy while the Griffins were on the power play. Cailey Herwig made the score 3-0 with a wrister from the face-off circle that eluded Leahy at the 9:19 mark of the period.
Algonquin coach Rhonda Mullin then called a time-out to settle her team down and the Thunderbirds applied some heavy pressure with Brianna Delaurier making several big saves to keep her team in the lead. Then with 2:28 to play, the Griffins got an unexpected fourth goal as Norlock lifted the puck out of her own zone towards the Thunderbirds net. The puck somehow found its way under the paddle of Leahy’s stick for a 4-0 Griffins lead through the first of two periods.
The Algonquins stormed back in the second with Tawny Godin scoring the team’s first goal just 19 seconds into the period, tipping Megan Eady’s point shot past Delaurier with the Thunderbirds on the power play.
Courtney Burnett narrowed the gap to 4-2, 25 seconds later ad she saw the puck sitting on the goal line behind Delaurier and tapped it into the empty cage.
Shannon Godin drew the Thunderbirds to within one of the lead at the 9:52 mark, burying Eady’s pass from behind the Griffins’ goal.
Fifty-eight seconds later, Sadie Wagner fired a shot on net that changed directions and found the twine to tie the score at four.
Tawny Godin gave the Thunderbirds their first lead of the game with 5:42 to play, finding the short side with what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Wagner added an empty-netter in the dying seconds to make the final 6-4.
General Manager Nina Commanda said it is always an honour and true privilege to represent one’s culture.
“Acknowledging and accepting the historical beginning of yours and others heritage is a gift we all give ourselves and others. We may have all started in different places, but we are all in this together now, so in the spirit of our ancestors let’s continue to be proud of who we are and where we came from.”
Ms. Commanda noted during the intermission between the first and second periods when they trailed 4-0, the players were reminded that being the underdog was not new to Indigenous people.
“But what we know now is that our people have endured and overcome many obstacles throughout history and prevailed. As a culture that believes in the power of community and holding each other up. Let’s use this power to work together and once again prevail.”
In the lone other game not involving the two teams, the Germans beat the Irish 4-3 in a shoot-out.