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Merchants take down Beaumont to win CJHL championship

It's the Merchants first CJHL title since the 2004-2005 season, and seventh in team history.

With a 7-2 win over the Beaumont Chiefs on Sunday in game five of the Capital Junior Hockey League (CJHL) playoff finals, the St. Albert Merchants Jr. B hockey team has been crowned league champions for the first time since 2005.

The Merchants, who defeated the Stony Plain Flyers and Morinville Jets on their way to the finals, nearly swept the best-of-seven championship series against Beaumont as the hometown club held a three game lead heading into game four on March 22, in which the Chiefs squeaked out a 3-2 win to stave-off elimination.

In game five the Merchants came out firing by scoring three unanswered goals in the first period, which would've been all they needed to secure the championship but the team tacked on two goals in both the second and third periods to close the door on Beaumont, who struggled offensively throughout the series scoring just 10 goals compared to the Merchants 23.

Merchants forwards Nico Gallo and David Saunders lead the team offensively in game five as both players put up three points, and Gallo's second goal in the first period ended up being the game winner.

RELATED: Merchants top scorer sets team scoring record

Your 2024 Capital Junior Hockey League Champions#CJHLPlayoffs | #StAlbertMerchants

📸: @scholten_prod

— Capital Junior Hockey League (@Capjhl) March 25, 2024

Although it's the team's first Founders Cup victory in nearly 20 years, it is the seventh title in team history. The Merchants first championship was in 1988, and then the club won four straight between 1995 and 1998.

Head coach Niall O'Donoghue told the Gazette that after coming up short to the Sherwood Park Knights last year, the Merchants really wanted to finish this season on top.

“There was an unfinished business mindset with the group for sure.” he said. “They worked hard to get that in the end so they're feeling pretty good about themselves right now, and they should be.”

“Last year we ran into [a bunch of] injuries in the final and this year we were completely healthy, which was awesome and that made a huge difference.”

Team captain Dylan McFatridge, who is one of four players in their final year of junior hockey eligibility, said in an interview that it's an “unbelievable” feeling to win the league title.

“It's something our team has worked for the whole year and a goal that obviously we knew we were able to accomplish if we did the right thing day-in and day-out and it just feels good that we finally got it done,” McFatridge said. 

“I think the best feeling of it all for me, Cole [Crozier] our goalie, and the other 21-year-olds Hayden [Carlson] and Brett [Reiter], is that it was icing on the top winning it with those guys — some of my best friends growing up and we've been friends for a very long time — and having that chance to celebrate it together is probably one of the best feelings I've had in hockey.”

Crozier, who in the playoffs had a goals-against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of 0.926, said the team was expecting more of a battle from Beaumont in the finals given they knocked out Sherwood Park in the semi-finals, ending the Knights' bid for a third straight championship-winning season.

“We thought that they'd kind of give up a bit more of fight seeing as how they handled Sherwood Park so easily, but we were pretty surprised they were able to make it through, but we had the determination and the want to beat them,” he said. “We felt like we were in control of that series for most of the time.”

Crozier also said the Merchants' ability to dominate games offensively as well as strong defensive play in the finals really helped the team shut Beaumont down offensively, especially the Chiefs' leading scorer Carson Schultz.

“With our offence we generate a lot of shots,” he said. “We almost out shoot every team that we play, which obviously makes the defences' and my job a lot easier.”

“The defence that are in front of me are unbelievable as well, can't take anything away from them.”

The Merchants don't have too much time to soak in their success as the team will head to Peace River, Alta. next week for the Jr. B provincial tournament to compete for the Russ Barnes Trophy.

In Peace River the Merchants will take on the best of the best from other Jr. B leagues in the province, such as the La Crete Lumber Barons, who were recently crowned the champions of the North West Junior Hockey League, and the Northwest Calgary Athletic Association Stampeders, the Calgary Junior Hockey League champions.

Forward Hayden Carlson, who has served as an assistant captain for the Merchants for the past two years, said he's hoping the team can prove in provincials that the local Jr. B league is as good as any in Alberta.

“The last two years it looked like Sherwood Park didn't really do the the best [in provincials],” Carlson said. “We're hoping that we can go there and prove that the league is a good league, and hopefully win it.”

“We're not going there for anything less than a gold medal,” added McFatridge.

The Merchants first game in the provincial tournament is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on April 3, and the team will take on the Heritage Junior Hockey League champion, which will be either the Okotoks Bisons or the Sylvan Lake Wranglers. The best-of-seven league championship series between Okotoks and Sylvan Lake is currently tied at two games a side, with games five, six, and seven set for March 29, 30, and 31 respectively.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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