Despite losing an overtime heartbreaker Sunday in the Atlantic major midget hockey final, Dartmouth Steele Subaru can count on a rewarding silver lining.
Even before falling 2-1 to the Saint John (N.B.) Vitos in the Atlantic championship at Conception Bay South, N.L., Dartmouth was guaranteed a berth in the Telus Cup nationals because the Vitos are hosting the Canadian major midget championship April 18-24 at Quispamsis, N.B.
It was an emotional Atlantic final for previously unbeaten Steele Subaru, which led 1-0 before giving up the tying goal with 10 seconds left in the third period and the winner just 52 seconds into overtime.
“It was a good hockey game, with two good teams,” said Dartmouth coach Steve Crowell. “They got a bounce (on the tying goal). We had a chance with 15 seconds left to get the puck out and didn't get it out. Five seconds later, it was in the net. That’s hockey sometimes.”
Alex Hambley scored that equalizer and Ben Reid tallied the winner on a breakaway in the opening minute of overtime. Matt Warner, on a Dylan Burton power-play setup, had given Dartmouth a 1-0 lead with 8:33 remaining in regulation time.
With a perfect 4-0 record, defending-champion Steele Subaru was the class of the round-robin portion of the five-team, four-day Atlantic championship. Saint John's 2-2 preliminary record included a 4-3 shootout loss to Dartmouth on Saturday.
Crowell, a 21-year veteran of the midget coaching ranks, put Sunday’s stinging defeat in perspective during his post-game address to Dartmouth’s players.
“One of my assistant coaches (Marty King) played for me in the Air Canada Cup in 1992,” he recalled. “That year, we won the Nova Scotia league, we came to the Atlantics and lost, but hosted the now-Telus Cup and we won a bronze medal.
“This team is better than that (1992) team, I think, and at the end of the day, we’re going to the Super Bowl of minor hockey tournaments. They’re going to have a great week. We have eight guys (with the current club) that were on the team last year that went to (the nationals in) Riviere-du-Loup, (Que.). We’re looking forward to it.”
Dartmouth has posted a 14-2 playoff record, including its 4-1 run at the Atlantics.
“It was just a tough bounce (in the final),” Crowell said. “Even the overtime goal . . . the puck just bounced up in the air and went over our goalie (Aidan Hosein). It wasn’t a great shot that beat him upstairs. It was just a deflection.
“But they (the Vitos) certainly worked hard. They were full marks for their effort, as well. And whether we had won it 1-0, or lost 2-1, it was two good hockey teams that went at it.”
Hosein and his Saint John counterpart, Jake Stewart, each made 28 saves in the gold-medal game.
The teams have two weeks to ready for the nationals.
“We’ll probably have five or six practices, get refocused, and we’ll be heading out on the 17th,” Crowell said.