Cougars lasso Bandits for RBC glory

Nick Minerva scored 8:21 into overtime as the host Cobourg Cougars edged the Brooks Bandits 3-2

Nick Minerva scoring 8:21 into overtime as the host Cobourg Cougars erased a late deficit to edge the Brooks Bandits 3-2 in the Royal Bank Cup Sunday night.

Off a won face-off in the offensive zone, Minerva took a pass from Matt Bumstead and wired a one-timer past Brooks goaltender Mitch Benson, setting off a raucous celebration at the jam-packed Cobourg Community Centre.

The Cougars are the ninth host team to claim Canada’s National Junior A hockey championship since the start of the tournament format in 1985, and the second in three years, joining the 2015 Portage Terriers.

The BCHL champion Penticton Vees were eliminated 3-1 by the Cougars, while Brooks ousted the Terrebonne Cobras of Montreal in semifinal play Saturday.

“Our guys fought to the end hitting our fourth goal post of the game with 90 seconds left to play,” said Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson. “Cobourg played the same game as we saw the first time we played them. Unfortunately we beat them in the wrong game. If we had the opportunity to play them in a seven-game series, I like our chances, but that’s not the case. I’m proud of what we accomplished with this team.”

Nicholas Jones, named the tournament’s Most Sportsmanlike Player, scored for the Vees.

Brooks held a 13-4 advantage in shots in the first period of the gold-medal game, but the game went to the first intermission tied 1-1.

Cobourg struck first, with Jamie Huber jumping on a turnover in the Brooks zone and playing give-and-go with Connor MacEachern before beating Benson to make it 1-0 before the clock hit four minutes.

That ended a lengthy shutout streak for Benson, who had not allowed a goal in more than 169 minutes.

Conner Jean pulled the Bandits even less than five minutes later on the power play, whacking a backhand past Cobourg netminder Stefano Durante after a scramble.

Durante was the story in a scoreless second period, making 13 more saves and keeping the Bandits at bay on a trio of power-play opportunities.

Brooks took its first lead at 8:31 of the third period; NHL prospect Cale Makar kept the puck in at the blueline and worked it down low to captain Nick Prkusic, who spun into the slot and jammed it past Durante for the 2-1 goal.

It looked like that goal was going to stand up as the title-winner, and the Cougars put Durante in the bench in the dying seconds in search of a last-gasp equalizer.

With Cobourg working the puck around the Bandits’ zone, Brennan Roy threw the puck towards the net, where Ryan Casselman – the Cougars’ leading pointgetter during the regular season, who had yet to score in the tournament – redirected it past a screened Benson to tie the game with just 68 seconds remaining.

The Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL will host the 2018 RBC Cup from May 12-20.