The Campbell River Storm was red hot in Cold Lake.
The Junior 'B' club became the first Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) team to capture the Keystone Cup as Western Canadian champions. The Storm, counting Whistler's Tyler Welsh and Ryan Grills among its numbers, defeated the North Edmonton Red Wings 6-3 in the championship game on April 19 to take the title.
"It was amazing. It was a long season and to come down and end in that way was amazing," Grills said. "Now, we sit back and realized what we just accomplished."
The win was sweet revenge for the Storm, as Campbell River's only loss of the round-robin had come to the Red Wings. In that game, the Storm coughed up an early 2-0 lead only to give up the winner with six seconds remaining in a 5-4 loss.
In the title game, Campbell River blazed out to a 4-0 lead and weathered a North Edmonton third-period surge to hang on.
"We knew they'd be a tough team to play and we'd have to bring our A game. We started with a quick couple goals and started feeling good (in the second period)," Grills said. "We knew they were a fast team, especially through the neutral zone. We're a team that plays really well down low in the offensive zone and we thought we could exploit them there.
"We found their weaknesses in the offensive zone and used our skill."
The Storm's bench boss said going all the way was what the team looked to do all season.
"It's hard to put into words," head coach and general manager Lee Stone told the Campbell River Mirror. "When we came together we had this goal; it wasn't about winning the VIJHL or provincials, it was to go all the way and win this (Keystone Cup).
"We battled through some adversity in this tournament with the loss to North Edmonton during (the) round-robin, but to get revenge in the final means a lot to these guys. They are such an exceptional group of young men, they really, truly deserve it."
Fitness was a major factor in the win as well, as the Storm ended up playing six games in four days as part of the championship chase.
"We haven't played two games in one day since peewee tournaments," Grills said. "We pride ourselves on working hard every day throughout the season to make sure we were ready for these big tournaments where you're playing every day or twice a day.
"It was tough, but we were glad we were a well disciplined team, and well conditioned and we were able to fight through it."
Welsh, the VIJHL's rookie scoring leader in the regular season, was a surprise boost to the lineup. Shortly after suffering a shoulder injury in the league playoffs, Welsh acknowledged he was likely done for the year. But he felt well enough to play in two games, scoring a goal and an assist in round-robin play against the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks before chipping in an assist in the final.
"Knowing Tyler, he couldn't sit on the bench and not participate," Grills said. "He was actually part of the power play and penalty kills and fighting through it.
"He didn't let his shoulder hold him back."
Aside from their loss to the Red Wings, the Storm beat the Saskatoon Quakers 4-2, the Cold Lake Ice 4-2, the Thunder Bay Northern Hawks 5-2 and the Selkirk Fishermen 6-1.
In all, Campbell River completed its postseason run with a 21-2 mark.
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