With his darling two-week-old daughter Taytum Rose safely under the North Enderby Timber tent for shelter from the rain, Graham Ross calmly stepped on the MacDonald Park pitch Sunday night seeking yet another Gibson Cup.
Just seven minutes in, the 38-year-old midfielder combined with Mike Devine to set up striker Brent Poulsen for a sweet left-footed snipe which jumpstarted the Timber in a 3-0 win over Salmon Arm Auto Quest in the North Okanagan Soccer League playoff final.
Ross, whose late father, Bob, coached the Timber for several years back in the day, has been part of all 12 Timber Gibson Cup titles, a league record which will likely never be matched. Graham took a swig of Champagne as the classy Timber quietly celebrated a dozen championships and then checked on his daughter and partner Carly Smith.
“I’ve probably been here longer than anyone that’s for sure, 23 years,” smiled Ross, who’s loving fatherhood. “I wanna try and get two more years in; we’ll see if the legs can hold it. Over 35 (league) is looking really tempting right now.”
The Timber lost just once in the regular season and stopped second-place Auto Quest 6-2, 4-1 and 3-2 along the way. Auto Quest showed up missing a few key regulars, including 6-foot-4 former Thompson Rivers WolfPack keeper Morgan Crandlemire and failed to muster any serious offence.
“They ran out of gas real quick,” said Ross “We were moving the ball around really well which kept them running. They’ve got a skilled team for sure, but I think it came down to our composure.”
Auto Quest captain Rob Schultz, whose club was graceful in defeat, gave props to the Timber and is stoked about his club’s future in the NOSL.
“We had a really good season (11-4). We had the most goals for from a pretty young group of guys; they’re all in their 20s and they’ve only been playing together for a year and a bit. It’s a fun group so it doesn’t feel so bad. You get to play some good footy with some good guys.”
Steven Luchkanych was supposed to be a stand-in for Crandlemire, but was a definite standout and easily the Setters Pub Man of the Match for Auto Quest.
“He played great,” said Schultz. “He’s filled in a few times. Steve’s great. He talks a lot. Without him today, we probably would have taken a good shellacking.”
Luchkanych watched a few first-half shots strike posts, including an early penalty kick by Evan Frederick, and made one spectacular finger-tip stop on a Poulsen 15-yard corker. He was even busier in the final 45 during a steady, driving rain when he stymied Poulsen multiple times and thanked a post or two for assistance.
Frederick, who ran a marathon while winning most 50-50 balls for the Burger King Man of the Match, struck the left post on his PK near the 20th minute. Referee Jas Parr, who called a strong tilt while issuing one yellow card to each team, awarded the PK when Poulsen was fouled by a pair of defenders inside the six-yard box.
Just minutes later, the Timber thought they had gone by a deuce when Brodie Couch converted a rebound off an attempt by Jesse Knight. Assistant referee Mark Sladen raised his flag for an offside to nullify the goal.
Ross almost chipped a cheeky ball over Luchkanych in the 40th minute with the half ending 1-0 NET. Auto Quest, who got constant hustle from speedster Brandon Ashworth, crafty winger Russell Thorsteinsson and ultra-talented central fullback Issac Walton, refused to surrender.
Early in the second half, NET keeper Danny Stein dropped an airball inside in front, and with Auto Quest frantically searching for the rebound, the ball was cleared by the stellar Timber back four.
The Timber pretty much enjoyed possession for the rest of the game with Frederick curling in a shot from a tough angle, at 55 minutes, and Poulsen and Brandon Enair pressing the Auto Quest defence and forcing an own goal some 12 minutes later, for security.
Frederick, who at 24, represents the future of NET along with Enair, 24, and teenagers Xander Sladen and Peter Hirschkorn, felt the high and low emotions that often come in a championship match.
”I was just trying my normal PK,” laughed Frederick, his entire kit drenched. “I usually put in nice and low left corner and then I looked up and the goalie didn’t move so your heart kind of sinks and you can’t believe it happened. Then Jeff Nice finds me with a great through ball and to be honest, I just tried to put it back for a cross or something, and when I noticed it got in, I felt more relief than anything. I was just happy to get that monkey off my back and get that redemption for the team. It was awesome. Great for the guys.”
Poulsen, who rang up five goals as NET lassoed the Salmon Arm Outlaws 5-2 in last week’s semifinal, said the Timber were better prepared than 2017 when they lost the final to Monashee Surveying FC on the college turf.
“We came out from the beginning ready to go,” said Poulsen, who turned defenders the wrong way all night. “Two years in a row, we lost in the final so it was nice to get it back. Everybody showed up to play today. It was wet, the grass was long and Evan buried that one, in the end, to put us up by two and we were good from there.”
The Gibson Cup is named after Ian Gibson, a longtime youth and men’s soccer referee and allocator. Gibby was ill Sunday night and unable to present the trophy.