One victory. That’s all the Eastview Wildcats needed in March to take the Georgian Bay Secondary School Association (GBSSA) triple-A championship.
It was also all the senior boys hockey managed to win in seven regular-season contests. Despite posting a 1-4-2 record in league action, the Wildcats ran the table in the playoffs and edged the St. Peter’s Panthers 2-1 in a shootout to win the GBSSA title.
“This is a team made of heart,” said Eastview coach Ted Wilson. “The boys have battled all year long and been the underdogs for the most part. They’re strong-willed, they’re tenacious and they just keep fighting. They never say surrender.”
That was not an uncommon theme for Eastview this season, which seemed to bring its best when the games got important.
“This is a team based on emotion,” Wilson said. “The record was 1-4-2, but we won the Blue Puck tournament, we won the Kempenfelt Cup, and when it matters, the boys show up. This was another example of that.”
The Wildcats may have found their way through the public board competition, but the Panthers were a formidable opponent and had taken the Monsignor Clair Cup in December.
St. Peter’s came out strong early and took the lead just 54 seconds in, when Mason Beck’s shot was deflected by Ben Battaglia past Eastview starter Mitchell Weeks.
“You don’t get too frustrated, because it’s so early,” Weeks said. “You know you have time to get it back.”
Sure enough, Eastview evened the score 62 seconds later, as Ryan Connick took a feed from Max Morris and swept it in, to tie the game at 1-1.
“After the first goal (was scored on us), it was, ‘okay, game on,’,” Wilson said. “We scored less than two minutes later. That’s the kind of team we are. We get down, we push back.”
Following the early markers, both teams settled in to play a more complete game, which meant limited offence. St. Peter’s had its share of opportunities, but Weeks held his ground and denied the attack.
As the game progressed without another goal, it became increasingly clear the next one would almost certainly be the winner.
“I could sense that,” Wilson said. “It seemed to be a goaltender’s battle and I’ll go up against anyone with my goalie. Mitchell Weeks is an outstanding goalie, an all-star. You give him a chance and he will shine. This was just another example of that.”
Once regulation ended in a tie, a 10-minute, five-on-five overtime followed, and it was where the Wildcats began to get some opportunities of their own. But after more than 53 minutes of scoreless hockey, another method was needed and the teams went to a five-man shootout.
That may well have favoured Weeks, who was patient and quick in the crease.
“You just stay calm,” he said. “You don’t want to bite on the first move because it’s usually fake, so you wait to see what the shooter does and make him make the first move.”
Weeks turned aside two St. Peter’s attempts in what was a scoreless shootout before Wilson tapped an unlikely option for his third shooter – defenceman Gage Argue.
“I think everyone was surprised, including Gage,” Wilson said. “He plays defence for us, but I could tell he was on his game. I knew something was up, and it was his time.”
Argue made a deft move and got the Panthers goalie to bite before firing a puck into the open half of the net, giving Eastview the lead.
“It was a nice goal, Patrick Kane-like,” Wilson said. “He contributed just like I hoped he would.”
That goal turned out to be the only one of the shootout, as Weeks slammed the door the rest of the way.
“I knew I could be a little more aggressive, because we had that goal there,” Weeks said. “I just wanted to stay calm and finish the job at the end.”
So despite finishing the regular season in seventh place, the Wildcats showed they had what it took to survive and advance all the way to the provincial championship.
“I think it’s knowing what’s in it and what’s at the end,” Wilson said. “I think, in these playoffs, they knew they had to win to continue. They knew in the (Kempenfelt Cup) that they had to win to continue. This game, they had to win to continue. They could sense that, and they capitalized.”