A sluggish start, followed by a storybook ending.
After going 0-4, including a pair of exhibition losses, Team Canada West rattled off three straight wins to record its first World Junior A Hockey Challenge title in four years.
The Westerners doubled Canada East 4-2 in Sunday’s nationally televised gold-medal game at the Langley Events Centre.
“We knew we had to be sharper going into the playoffs. We felt like we were letting people down with the way we were playing,” said defenceman Brett Corkey, one of three Vernon Vipers to suit up for Canada West. He joined d-man Luke Juha and forward Aaron Hadley at the Langley tourney.
“As we got on the ice more and more we kind of gelled. We were running different systems than what we were used to.”
Corkey, who wore an ‘A’ with Canada West, joked he was going to hang his gold medal above Viper teammate Darren Nowick’s bed after the American-born sniper gleefully chirped the Viper trio after Canada West’s 6-1 loss to the U.S. in preliminary play last week.
Alex Kerfoot (Coquitlam Express) scored once and added an assist for the West, while Carson Cooper (Fort McMurray Oil Barons, AJHL) scored the winner on a powerplay 40 seconds into the third period.
Evan Richardson (Powell River Kings) opened the scoring 74 seconds into the second period and Hadley added insurance 2:33 into the third to help Canada West become the first team to ever win gold after going winless in the preliminary round.
“To get the win while representing your country is an awesome feeling,” said Hadley, a Castlegar native who endured 16 straight days of hockey, including two-a-day practices under head coach Kent Lewis, before Sunday’s big win.
“In the end it was worth it when you’ve got a gold medal around your neck.”
Michael Neville and Daniel Milne, who both play with St. Michael’s Buzzers in the OJHL, handled Canada East’s offence.
All three of Canada West’s WJAC titles have come at the expense of Canada East – West topped East 4-3 at the inaugural tourney in Yorkton, Sask., in 2006 before winning by a 4-1 score in Trail a year later.
Meanwhile, the Vipers will gladly welcome back their WJAC trio as they embark on a three-game road swing to the Lower Mainland, starting with a Thursday-night tilt against the fourth-place Chilliwack Chiefs (10-6-0-1) at Prospera Place.
They visit the Surrey Eagles (11-5-0-3) and Langley Rivermen (6-13) Friday and Saturday night respectively.
The Vipers, second in the Interior Conference at 13-5, are coming off a lacklustre 2-1 overtime win against the host Trail Smoke Eaters Saturday night at Cominco Arena.
Nowick, who co-leads the Vipers with 13 goals, collected the winner just 15 seconds into the second OT period. Mike Zalewski, Vernon’s other 13-goal man, set him up with a nice drop pass.
“Wasn’t a great effort, but a win is a win,” said head coach Jason Williamson. “It was sloppy and not a lot of heart, but we found a way.”
Gritty Vernon forward Colton Sparrow, scoring his sixth goal, took a feed from Marcus Basara to go in on a partial breakaway and beat James D’Andrea low blocker side late in the first period.
The Smokies, BCHL cellar dwellers at 3-13-1-3, equalized on the powerplay late in the second frame when Garrett McMullen’s point shot deflected past Kirby Halcrow (32 saves).
SNAKE BITES: Two-time defending champion U.S. iced Sweden 4-0 in the WJAC bronze-medal game Saturday…Viper rookie Adam Tambellini scored the OT winner as Team West stopped Team East 4-3 in Game 1 of the CJHL Prospects Games Saturday afternoon in Langley. The West iced the East 5-3 Sunday to earn the President’s Trophy.