No medals for Money Men
St. Albert Merchants finish fourth at junior B provincials in Grande Prairie
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Merchants never recovered from a painful overtime playoff loss at provincials and with a medal on the line finished fourth.
The Founders Cup finalists in the Capital Junior B Hockey League were not the same team in Sunday’s 3-1 bronze-medal setback against the North Peace Navigators after letting a three-goal lead slip away in the third period in the 5-4 OT shocker to the Blackfalds Wranglers in Saturday’s semifinal at Grande Prairie.
“We were six or seven minutes away from going to the gold medal game and quite honestly stunned in many ways in terms of the outcome so to say it was a real backbreaker for us mentally and emotionally and physically and every other way, absolutely,” said head coach Scott Rodda. “That made it tough coming out on Sunday for the bronze, albeit still a bronze medal. In all fairness it was a real tough challenge for the boys to recover from that.”
The Merchants started the OT period on the power play for 44 seconds but a bad bounce with the puck jumping over a player’s stick resulted in a breakaway goal by Dalen Kolybaba 28 seconds into the extra frame.
“It was a tough loss in the semifinals,” said defenceman Dan Rombough. “A lot of the guys were still a little bit kind of hurt I guess from that semifinal game in the bronze medal game.”
Blackfalds struck in the opening period and in the second Thomas Rotundo and Sandon Hunter on the power play potted their third goals of the tournament to put the Merchants on top.
In the third Mitch McNamara tallied twice in a 1:50-minute span – the first goal was on the power play and his third of the tournament was unassisted at 12:54.
Blackfalds rallied on goals at 13:35, 14:18 and 15:08 to even the score at four apiece.
Shots were 15-11 for Blackfalds in the third and 45-41 overall for the Merchants, including an 18-6 margin in the first.
Casey Reid finished with two assists and Justin Pawlenchuk was in net.
“We played good as a team and everyone was working really hard but near the end of the third period some of the bounces didn't go our way and they tied it up and kind of stole the momentum from us,” Rombough said. “They also got a goal that actually wasn’t in the net on top of everything and it just deflated us near the end.”
Blackfalds, a Heritage league playoff finalist, went on to beat the host Grande Prairie Kings 6-0 in the final for the right to represent Alberta at the Western Canadian Keystone Cup in Abbotsford, B.C.
The last game of the season for the Merchants ended with disappointment against the Navigators, the North West league regular season and playoff champions.
In the middle stanza the Peace River club scored three times, including a pair on the power play, before the Merchants replied with 1:39 left in the frame on the second of the tournament by midget AAA affiliate Taylor Lotoski.
The Merchants were outshot 12-9 in the second and 29-20 overall. In net was Max Cathcart.
“We definitely still played hard and tried to win the bonze. We knew we were still playing for something,” Rombough said.
The loss left the Merchants with a 2-3 record after placing first in pool A at 2-1. They dropped the tournament opener 4-3 to the Okotoks Bisons, the four-time Heritage league champions, then doubled the Navigators 6-3 before knocking off CRAA Royals Gold of Calgary 5-3 for a semifinal berth.
“It was a long weekend. We had guys hurt and the bounces didn’t go our way but we played hard as a team,” said Rombough, 19.
Reid and Rotundo led the Merchants in scoring at provincials with seven points apiece, with Reid the top playmaker with seven assists.
Hunter, McNamara and Taylor Wiebe posted five points apiece and Stefan Meunier chipped with two goals.
Cathcart (1-2, 3.37 GAA) and Pawlenchuk (1-1, 4.00) shared time in net.
They were recognized by the CJHL as the top netminding tandem in league play with a combined 2.32 GAA.
Pawlenchuk, the CJHL’s first team all-star netminder for the second straight year, along with Meunier, Ryan Harrison and captain Kurtis Watts – the team’s four over-age players – wrapped up their junior B careers at provincials.
The Merchants had a short turnaround for provincials after a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks in the fifth and deciding game in the Founders Cup final in front of a full house at Akinsdale Arena.
“We knew that we still had something to play for in provincials. We went there and tried to win and redeem ourselves from that game five but overall it was a real good experience. We came closer as a team and we tried to play our best,” said Rombough, a CJHL second team all-star who recorded one goal and three assists at provincials.
But the fourth-place finish wasn’t good enough for the Money Men after finishing first in the CJHL at 34-3-1 and in three playoff series they were 9-5.
“If you were to ask anybody individually and collectively we’re disappointed at the outcome. I think with 100 per cent honesty we could have and should have done better result-wise but it’s a tough tournament with great teams. We competed hard, we competed very classy and we showed lots of character so as a coach I’m very proud of the boys,” Rodda said. “They were quite inspired to go to provincials and do well so it’s a testament to them. They’ve really built a strong team and a sense of team and collectively they were quite ready to go at provincials but in a short tournament it’s tough; a few bounces here and there and it changes everything.”
It was the best season by a St. Albert junior B team since the 36-0-0 Merchants in 1996/97.
“Definitely we were one of the best teams if not the best team in the league,” Rodda said. “At the end of the day sometimes you measure success by whether you won something or not and to me these guys are still absolutely winners. We don’t have a medal or a trophy but there is no doubt we had a very successful season individually and collectively.
“With the lessons learned from this year I hope they can build on that for another productive season and I think they will. They’re a good bunch of kids.”
Rodda and assistants Alan Fraser, Zach Rodda and Taylor Fraser shared the CJHL’s coach of the year award, but the Merchants’ bench boss was unsure over his status for next season. The director of family and community support services for the City of St. Albert plans to recharge his batteries for a few weeks in preparation for the team’s banquet before meeting with the Merchants’ board of directors.
During Rodda’s first season the Merchants established themselves as the No. 1 sports team in St. Albert as fans packed the Akinsdale barn and every home playoff game was a memorable experience.
“I’m glad we had some impact on the community,” Rodda said.