GANDER, NL – Mason Reid broke a 5-5 tie roughly seven minutes into the third period, and the Clarenville Ford Caribous hung on for a 6-5 win over the Kelly Ford Gander Flyers to capture the Central West Senior Hockey League title Friday night in Gander.
It was Mason’s second goal of the game, and one of the most important of his career, and sends the Caribous to the Herder Memorial Championship to battle either the Southern Shore Breakers or St. John’s Capitals, who are playing for the East Coast Senior Hockey League title.
“It feels great,” said Caribous’ captain Dustin Russell following the trophy presentation. “The atmosphere here tonight was outstanding and the Gander fans really came out to support their team. They have a great young team, and this isn’t the last you’re going to hear of the Gander Flyers, I can guarantee you that.”
The Flyers’ faithful were mainly quiet after the first 20 minutes, when the Caribous went into the dressing room ahead 3-1 thanks to goals from Ryan Desrosiers, Chad Earle and Reid.
However, a completely different Flyers’ team took to the ice in the second period, and thanks to goals from Jordan Escott, Brent Shute and Brandon Hynes, the game was tied at 4-4 heading into the third period.
Although the Flyers were charging, Caribous’ head coach Rebecca Russell said there was no panic in her team, and she had faith the game plan would work if everybody stuck to it.
“That’s one thing about this team. Whatever position we are in, we try and turn it into a positive one,” she said outside of the team’s dressing room, where the celebration was already started. “The big thing for us was that we were heading into the third period tied…so if we win that period, we’re league champions. The biggest thing for me is instilling confidence in them that what we have planned will work if we just stick to it, and I always tell them, I wouldn’t want to coach any other fellas than the group we have in that room.”
The atmosphere on the other side of the rink was a little less jovial, but Flyers’ head coach Rick Sheppard was proud of what his young squad was able to accomplish this year.
There was no quit in his team after a tough first period, and the first-year head coach had nothing but positive things to say about his team and the effort they gave in the final, and all season long.
“I’m extremely proud of what we did this year,” said Sheppard. “My objective this year was to get everyone pointed in the same direction, and for the most part, this team was headed in the right direction. We had a lot of positives this year, and as a first-year coach, I didn’t know how I was going to coach to be honest with you. When I started, I said, ‘I’m going to be positive about this’…and I was 95 per cent positive all year and five per cent negative. For me, how can I be disappointed with everyone we accomplished this year?”
One of the big storylines coming out of Gander was the fact it was littered with talented, young, local players like Graham Oldford, Colton Collins, Nick Fitzgerald, Josh Fitzgerald and Thomas Hedges, along with veteran defenceman Ryan Matheson, who has been a Flyers since the team returned to senior hockey.
Sheppard is familiar with those young players, and believes with a strong young, local core, the future is bright for the Flyers.
“I coached those guys for 10 years. Those are my guys, and I don’t care what anyone says,” said Sheppard. “Our local players are better than most local players, and that’s a big difference between last year’s team and this year’s team. We have some great, local talent, and I think it really brought the veterans along a little bit.”
The Flyers certainly have a bright future, but the time is now for the Caribous.
Although the Steele Community Centre was blocked with loud and proud members of ‘Flyers Nation,’ who urged their young squad on, the Caribous’ fans were there in full force, and Russell said that support made a difference in the final outcome.
“It’s great for the league,” said Russell, who also complimented the Flyers’ fans that travelled to Clarenville. “It’s great to see the family members that travel with us, and hopefully this can carry over into next year.”
“The fans are a huge part of it for us,” added the head coach. “To win this in front of the die-hard fans that travelled here is heartwarming and makes victories like this even better. The people that were here tonight have been with us through the thick and thin, and it’s really nice for us to get it done in front of them.”